Medical Technology

How Skin Cells can now be used to Mimic Stem Cells



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Embryonic stem cell research is a vastly controversial but highly prospective line of study for scientists, trying to break into alternative methods of treating diseases.

Recent work by three different groups of scientists seems to have found a solution that could potentially satisfy and bridge this rift between ethicists (who are against embryonic stem cell research) as well as scientists, rooting for stem cell research, to meet on amicable ground. The new research could be a breakthrough for scientists, who are battling to find a common ground in the scientific world while also trying to answer the ethical issues in using the embryonic stem cells to find cures for various diseases.

The cells obtained from an embryo are known to develop into various cells in the body, some 220 different types of cells ranging from brain tissue to heart tissue and so on, what is called, pluripotency of this kind of cell. But this would mean that the embryo is destroyed in the process. Scientists in three known independent studies have now been able to attribute this pluripotency to skin cells with the help of a chemical reaction that makes use of four gene controlling proteins to convert ordinary skin cells and giving them characteristics of embryonic stem cells. These new cells were then able to be grown to produce heart and brain tissue. Each team arrived at a similar result through different methods.

What this means to research:

This technique is ground breaking in that it does not need to create and destroy embryos. Then again it could also mean that this research can help us find cures for some diseases and not have to contend with the problem of rejection by the patients' immune system since the system can be reprogrammed to create and use patient specific stem cells. Another advancement could be the fact that this will give the entire scientific community a better understanding of the disease progression and mechanism as well as the cure, intrinsically or through drugs. In other words this could throw open the doors for a gamut of fields like gene therapy, transplantation medicine and genetic engineering.

While the whole study is still in fledgling stage this could be a good setting stage for a new era in genetic research and change our understanding of disease, while giving hopes to millions with terminal illnesses. Redesigning skin cells to mimic embryonic stem cells might hold the answers and probably the cures to diseases like parkinson's disease, cancer and the possiblities are limitless.

Limitations:

Like with any new technique this is still in a seedling phase and the methods used to make the skin cells mimic the stem cells are yet to be proven to be safe for humans. Two techniques use viruses to induce new material into the cells while another method uses a chemical blend that may not be safe for human use. While these techniques have to be perfected the fact that this avenue has been opened up, is in itself, invaluable for the scientific community.

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