Researchers have developed a new way to make embryonic-like stem cells by soaking them in genetically engineered proteins, a new step toward using ordinary cells to treat disease.
An international team led by the Scripps Research Institute in California said it is the safest method yet found to transform ordinary skin cells into what are called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells.
They reported their finding, made using mouse cells, in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
They have also formed a corporate alliance to sell their technology to other researchers who want to make and work with the cells.
“Scientists have been dreaming about this for years,” said Sheng Ding of Scripps, who led the research.
Stem cells are the body’s master cells, providing a renewable source of brain, bone, muscle, blood and other cells. These cells make up days-old embryos and in the first few days after conception each one can give rise to all of the cells and tissues in the body.
These embryonic stem cells are sought after and studied by scientists who hope to understand and harness their powers to transform medicine by providing transplants to treat brain diseases, injuries, cancer and perhaps as a source of new organs.
Several teams have been working to find ways to simply make ordinary cells behave like embryonic stem cells — bypassing the need to get them from embryos, a painstaking process that some people also find morally objectionable.