Cell flipping

August 28, 2008

Is that sudden silence the disappearance of the stem-cell controversy?

Injecting a cocktail of proteins directly into the bodies of diabetic mice, researchers have converted normal pancreas cells into insulin-producing cells — a genetic transformation that could pave the way for treating intractable diseases and injuries using a patient’s own supply of healthy tissue.

The Harvard University scientists activated a trio of dormant genes that commanded the cells to transform themselves, much as a person might upload a new operating system onto a computer to change a PC into a Mac.

[. . .]

Doug Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the study’s senior author, said the same approach could be used to generate motor neurons for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to make cardiac muscle cells for heart attack victims or to create other crucial cells that can repair damage wrought by a range of illnesses.

“We were able to flip the cell from one state into another,” Melton said, adding that the approach should be useful in treating disorders in “any case where there’s a cell type missing and there are neighboring cells that are still healthy.”

I think we all may get tired of reading words like “startling” and “unprecedented” and “completely unexpected” in the next few years.

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