Researchers at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF have developed a way to reverse the age of adult stem cells (fibroblast cells), using microRNAs to effectively turn them back into embryo-like cells. While not quite a Benjamin Button scenario, these new findings have the potential to aid in brain injury repair by replacing damaged cells in areas affected by a traumatic impact.
These newly “young” cells have the ability to do what the controversial cells from embryos can – they are able to become any cell type (a state known as “pluripotency”). This makes it possible for scientists to stop their use of retroviruses that have been employed to create this cell flexibility, making stem cell therapy safer.
According to the study, previous methods for creating cells similar to embryonic stem cells used DNA to influence the production. The issue with this method is that three of the four genes promote an uncontrolled growth reaction in the cells, much like cancer.
The use of microRNAs has further benefits as reprogramming a patients cell instead of introducing a foreign one prevents it from being rejected, an issue that scientists have long been working to find a way around.
You can read more in the April 12, 2009 advanced online edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Image from emergentarchitecture.com.