May 1 2008
Researchers in the United States say they have produced a stem cell made from ordinary mouse skin cells which they have coaxed into becoming three different types of heart and blood cells in mice.
The heart and blood cells were made from so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells which are transformed skin cells that mimic the powers of embryonic stem cells.
They say their results bring the possibility of using the cells to treat heart disease in humans closer.
The team from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) were able to make the mouse iPS cells differentiate, or mature, into cardiomyocytes - vascular smooth muscle cells, the specialized muscle cells lining the blood vessel walls and hematopoietic or blood-forming cells; these are the cardiac muscle cells that contract with the beating heart.
The most powerful kinds of stem cells are embryonic stem cells because they are potentially able generate any type of tissue.
However as they require the use of an embryo or cloning technology, they are difficult to make and also raise ethical issues for many people.
As a result in many countries funding for research into embryo or cloning technology is limited.
Recently a number of research teams have reported finding some genes which can transform everyday skin cells into iPS cells, which in turn look and act like embryonic stem cells and last year scientists in the U.S. and Japan reported successfully reprogramming human skin cells to become iPS cells.
Dr. W. Robb MacLellan, an associate professor of cardiology and physiology at UCLA says the iPS cells could prove a valuable cell source for applications in regenerative medicine.
Dr. MacLellan says the next step is to see if human iPS cells can develop into immature heart cells, and then into cardiovascular and blood cells for use in patients.
The research is published in the journal Stem Cells Express.