Scientists hail stem cells ‘leap’
Wednesday 18th September 2013, 6:11PM BST.
Cancer patients or those suffering from Parkinson’s disease may not have to wait for donors in future following a “huge leap” forward in stem cell production, scientists have said.
Researchers have simplified and improved the laborious three-week process so that it can now be completed within days and with 100% efficiency.
This means doctors could eventually treat patients much more quickly using their own cells rather than performing a risky transplant.
Jacob Hanna, one of the team behind the discovery, said the procedure would remove the possibility of a transplant patient’s body rejecting an organ.
“We now know how to control a cell’s fate and really understand exactly how to make a stem cell from a skin cell, safely and robustly,” he said.
“A major goal in the future, the great promise of our research, is that a patient in need of a liver transplant, for example, could go to a clinic and have a biopsy taken. Doctors could then, very quickly and efficiently, make stem cells.
“They would then be able to give a patient back the liver cells he needs from his own stem cells and there would be no need to look for donors.”
Dr Hanna, assistant professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, added: “Because the transplant is with the patient’s own cells, his body cannot reject these cells.
“There would be no need to wait for a donor or a match. This would also eliminate the risk of rejections.”
Scientists said their advances could be used to treat any number of diseases – including cancer and Parkinson’s – within the next 10 years.
The findings, published in the journal Nature, came after a team developed a method for turning a skin cell back into a stem cell by removing a protein which blocked the process. Previously the procedure of creating stem cells has involved the use of viruses and changes to the DNA, Dr Hanna said.
“It had been done before but at ridiculously low efficiency,” he added. “The process took three weeks and was incredibly laborious.
“This new system takes six days and can produce a 100-fold increase in stem cells. It is a huge leap forward – it has become very easy and much more robust.”
The research requires considerable development before it is brought into hospitals but could eventually be used to treat a huge variety of diseases with potentially life-saving consequences, Dr Hanna said.