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expert reaction to study on potential new technique of stem cell repair

Publishing in the journal PNAS a group of scientists have reported their use of specific compounds to convert normal cells in the body to stem cells which can be used to create multiple types of specialised cells.

All our previous output on this subject can be seen here.


Prof. Sir Ian Wilmut, Founding Director of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh, said:

“During the past 20  years a variety of procedures have been found to modify the general pattern  of gene expression in cultured cells including cell fusion, nuclear transfer, introduction of tissue specific transcription factors or of chromatin modifying chemicals, such as 5-azacytidine.

“The authors have used 5-azacytidine as part of a novel protocol to “reprogram” terminally differentiated cells to mesenchymal stem cells.

“These MSC have then been assessed in tissue repair and found to be able to contribute to repair of bone, cartilage, striated muscle, blood vessels and blood. The repair was more effective than that seen if primary MSC were used.

“Further research is required to provide independent confirmation of the result and greater understanding of the mechanisms involved. If the treated cells have a greater potential to differentiate how does this occur?”


Prof. Giulio Cossu, Constance Thornley Professor of Regenerative Medicine, University of Manchester, said:

“This paper shows that mature cells of the bone can be moved one step back by combined treatment with a drug (aza-cytidine) that modifies DNA and a growth factor. The mature cells revert to the state of mesenchymal stem cells and become able of give rise to many components of the bone in culture. Authors show expression of pluripotency markers, which however are not associated to the formation of teratoma. They go on to show that treated bone fragments, once transplanted in vivo contribute to tissue regeneration. Overall this is an interesting paper but the press release appears to overemphasise the conclusions of the Authors and  it remains to be seen if and when this approach will be ready for clinical translation in patients”


PDGF-AB and 5-Azacytidine induce conversion of somatic cells into tissue-regenerative multipotent stem cells’ by Chandrakanthan et al. published in PNAS on Monday 4th April. 


Declared interests

Prof. Sir Ian Wilmut: I have a research interest (but no grants) in reprogramming and own some Geron shares (Geron is no longer active in stem cell research.)

Prof. Giulio Cossu: No conflicts of interest.

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