Researchers have found a way to turn fully formed cells into other kinds of tissue without needing to revert the cells back to an embryonic stem cell state first, reports Malcolm Ritter at the Associated Press. "It's like flying direct rather than scheduling a stopover," he adds. This direct conversion method may one day allow doctors to coax tissue cells into changing their type in order to repair damaged organs from within the body, Ritter says, but for now researchers say the method is a more efficient means of producing specialized cells in the lab than using embryonic stem cells, which are fraught with controversy and are difficult to use. In order to "trick" the cells into changing type, the researchers insert chemical signals to activate particular genes and suppress others, Ritter says. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done before these cells can be used medically, he adds, but some researchers say this method is the future of stem cell science.
Nov 30, 2010