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scientists react to new research on nuclear reprogramming

The findings, made in parallel by two research groups, were published in the journals Cell and Science. The researchers were able to ‘reprogram’ adult skin cells to become cells of a different tissue type.

Professor Leszeck Borysiewicz, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said:

“These are interesting results proving it is theoretically possible to ‘regress’ cells back to an earlier stage in development when they are self-perpetuating and still have the potential to be directed to become a whole range of different cell types, whether nerve cells, heart muscle or bone. These findings will enable increasing numbers of researchers across the world to use these stem-cell like cells to study disease and explore potential regenerative therapies. The Medical Research Council is funding work in this area, as well as into adult and embryonic stem cells. Each approach presents great potential, but also has its own set of limitations and it is crucial to pursue efforts in all avenues of stem cell research in order to achieve clinical benefit from this technology as quickly as possible. It is early days for induced pluripotent stem cells, and more research will be needed before the basic findings of the Kyoto and Wisconsin labs can be used for patient benefit.”

Prof Azim Surani, Marshall-Walton Professor Of Physiology And Reproduction, University of Cambridge, said:

“It is relatively easy to grow an entire plant from a small cutting, something that seems inconceivable in humans. Yet this study brings us tantalisingly close to using skin cells to grow many different types of human tissues. This method will allow derivation of a large repertoire of human stem cells, including those from patients with complex diseases, which could be used to examine how different disease states develop, and how to prevent or cure them.”

Dr Anna Krassowska, Research Manager, The UK Stem Cell Foundation, said:

“The development from Jamie Thomson’s and Shimya Yamanaka’s labs is welcome. It is good news that they have been able to advance this work from mouse cells to human cells very quickly. Generating stem cells by reprogramming mature cells, by cloning or genetic modification, is likely to have a huge impact on the efforts to combat incurable diseases, but it is vital at this early stage to pursue all possible techniques available.”

Dr Lyle Armstrong, Centre For Stem Cell Biology & Developmental Genetics, International Centre For Life, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, said:

“The current extension of induced pluripotency to human cells is a major development and although it is early days for this technique it may well prove to be every bit as signifcant as the first derivation of human embryonic stem cells nine years ago. It will be important to discover how this procedure achieves reprogramming of the somatic genome and if the cells are truly equivalent to those derived from IVF embryos but it is without question and important step forward.”

Prof Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Developmental Genetics, MRC National Institute For Medical Research, said:

“The work from the Yamanaka and Thomson labs is very exciting. This approach to derive patient-specific Embryonic Stem cell-like cells (iPS cells) is going to open up research into the genetic causes of disease and the search for therapies not only for such diseases, but also for repairing tissues damaged in other ways. However, the techniques still need some work. It will be important to find ways of reprogramming skin, or other cells, that do not rely on viruses, moreover, the relatively low frequencies obtained need an explanation, as do the differences between the iPS cells and ES cells and in the specific genes used in the two papers.

“We said in all the debates in 2000/2001 that led to the changes in the HFEA Act that one of the long term aims of the research on human ES cells and “therapeutic cloning” was the hope that this would lead to direct reprogramming to avoid the use of embryos. This has just come sooner than any of us thought. This unpredictability is one of the fantastic things about science, and is itself a reason why research avenues should always be open. While these new methods may surpass some of the needs for the use of cloning technology, they do not replace all, and the more we understand reprogramming with either method, the better we will be able to achieve our aims, which are to benefit mankind, not to do evil.”

Professor Ian Wilmut, Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This is an extremely exciting paper. The fact that introduction of a small number of proteins into adult human cells could produce cells that are equivalent to embryo stem cells takes us into an entirely new era of stem cell biology. We can now envisage a time when a simple approach can be used to produce stem cells that are able to form any tissue from a small sample taken from any of us. This will have enormous implications for research and perhaps one day for therapy.”

Prof Christopher Shaw, Head Of Clinical Neuroscience, King’s College London, said:

“This could be a major scientific breakthrough. If genetic modification of skin cells can generate millions of stem cells then we have a real chance of understanding currently incurable disease such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease. If these cells can be rendered safe then the therapuetic possibilities are extraordinary.”

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