Magazine article Science News

Sickle Save: Skin Cells Fix Anemia in Mice

Magazine article Science News

Sickle Save: Skin Cells Fix Anemia in Mice

Article excerpt

Using a new technique to turn skin cells into stem cells, scientists have corrected sickle cell anemia in mice. The advance provides proof of principle that stem cells made without embryos can treat disease, at least in lab animals, says Rudolf Jaenisch, the biologist who led the work at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Jaenisch and his team caution, however, that the technique is not yet suitable for use in humans because it may cause tumors.

Still, Jaenisch says that embryofree stem cells now "have the same potential for therapy as embryonic stem cells, without the ethical and practical issues." Embryonic stem cells are difficult to obtain, and some people oppose such research because it destroys discarded embryos.

In the new work, the scientists turned skin cells into embryonic-like cells. Researchers at Kyoto University in Japan first developed the technique in mice and published the protocol last year. Last month, two teams repeated the feat with human cells (SN: 11/24/07, p. 323). All of these protocols deploy viruses carrying four master genes that turn back the clock on skin cells, making them look and act embryonic. Researchers call these new cells induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells because they can form any tissue in the body.

The Whitehead researchers obtained mice engineered to carry a defective version of the human hemoglobin gene. That flaw distorts red blood cells into the characteristic sickle shape. To fix the flaw, the researchers induced skin cells plucked from the tails of the mice to become iPS cells, and corrected the genetic defect.

Next, the Whitehead team prodded the corrected cells into becoming blood stem cells, which can produce red and white blood cells. The team used a recipe originally developed for embryonic stem cells and found that it also made iPS cells grow into blood stem cells, the researchers report Dec. …

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