Adult Skin Cells Reprogrammed Without Cloning

Date: 06/19/2002

A team of scientists from Norway has succeeded in coaxing one type of adult cell to start behaving like a completely different type of adult cell. The scientists have made human skin cells in a test tube behave as if they were immune system cells, by bathing the skin cells in extracts of immune cells. In other work, they have been able to get skin cells to behave as if they were nerve cells.

“We can take a skin cell from your body and turn it directly into a cell type that you need to treat a particular disease,”said Dr. Philippe Collas, the leader of the team, whose work was published 5/1/02 in the respected journal Nature Biotechnology (5/01/02).

The technique being developed would allow a patient’ s skin cells to be turned directly into other types of cells without having to revert first to an embryonic state and without needing women’s eggs. They told Reuters, “That’s the beauty of our system — we are not working with embryos or dealing with stem cells at all. You get around all these issues.” The technique would have immediate applications in cancer. The group is also looking at making insulin-secreting pancreatic cells.

From a clinical perspective, approaches based on this technology would allow replacement cells to be generated that are compatible with a patient’s immune system, without the ethical problems of cloning or destroying embryos.