nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

We Don't Need No Stinking Stem Cells

A study out of Canada shows that you can cut out the middle man involved in creating one cell type from another.

There are well described techniques for creating pluripotent stem cells out of adult tissues, like skin cells.  These stem cells are "pluripotent" in the sense that they have been altered genetically to the point that they can be used to create other types of cells.  For instance, if you can take skin cells from an adult, cause them to lose the characteristics that make them skin and open up the full genetic complement of the cell, then use those cells to become the template for a different type of cell you want to encourage--like blood cells--then you can replace a person's blood or create a new blood cell line to replace a diseased one, etc.

While the process is more complex than I've described, you get the picture.  However, getting from skin, to stem, to blood cell, is tricky.

What if you could skip the stem cell part--the middle man--and go directly from skin to blood cell?

That's what this research describes (for the popular version, see Science Daily, Nov 8).

In the original study (Nature, Nov 7), the authors discuss how this technique could be useful.  Many diseases damage or destroy our body's ability to make new blood from cells in the bone marrow.  For decades, finding a matching donor to do a bone marrow transplant has been difficult, and sometimes impossible.

Imagine creating blood-producing cells from the affected individual's own skin.  This would avoid the necessity for a matching donor.  Nothing matches you.

Pretty exciting stuff, but very preliminary.  We need to see if these converted cells are stable and remain effective.  So a lot of work is yet to be done.

But it's the first successful attempt at converting directly from one tissue type to another.

Doc D

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