The research community is steaming ahead with a promising methodology for producing the building blocks of all tissue types directly from your own cells:
researchers used genetic alteration to turn back the clock on human skin cells and create cells that are nearly identical to human embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to become every cell type found in the human body. Four regulator genes were used to create the cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells.
Reprogramming adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells could generate a potentially limitless source of immune-compatible cells for tissue engineering and transplantation medicine. A patient’s skin cells, for example, could be reprogrammed into embryonic stem cells. Those embryonic stem cells could then be prodded into becoming various cells types - beta islet cells to treat diabetes, hematopoetic cells to create a new blood supply for a leukemia patient, motor neuron cells to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Our reprogrammed human skin cells were virtually indistinguishable from human embryonic stem cells. Our findings are an important step towards manipulating differentiated human cells to generate an unlimited supply of patient specific pluripotent stem cells. We are very excited about the potential implications.
Infrastructure is important: any advance that lowers the cost of a common tool or resource will speed progress. The new news in this latest press is that the procedure has been reproduced fairly rapidly by different research groups. It is therefore probably viable as a technology base for regenerative medicine, organ regrowth, drug testing, research into the biomechanisms of disease, and everything else you'd want a cheap supply of pluripotent stem cells to achieve.