Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Extreme Makeover

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Extreme Makeover

Article excerpt

Even cells are not immune to peer pressure. Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown that skin cells can be coaxed to behave like muscle cells--and muscle cells like skin cells--solely by altering who they hang out with: the relative levels of the ingredients inside the cell.

The fickleness of the cells, and the relative ease with which they make the switch, provide a glimpse into the genetic reprogramming that must occur for a cell to become something it is not. "We would all like to understand what happens inside the black box," says Helen Blau, the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter professor and member of Stanford's Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine Institute. "These types of experiments will help us to identify the earliest regulators of reprogramming."

Harnessing these genetic makeovers will allow scientists to better understand how to induce specialized adult cells to revert to a stem cell-like state in a process called "induced pluripotency." These newly pluripotent (iPS) cells, which can then be encouraged to branch out into a variety of other cell types, have shown increasing promise as possible therapies for disorders such as diabetes. But Blau's experiments suggest an intriguing alternative to iPS: enticing specialized adult cells to move sideways from one developmental fate to another without requiring a dip into the stem cell pool.

Blau, who directs the Baxter Laboratory of Genetic Pharmacology at the medical school, is the senior author of the research, which is published in the FASEB Journal. …

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