Scripps Research Institute scientists have converted adult skin cells directly into beating heart cells efficiently without having to first go through the laborious process of generating embryonic-like stem cells. The powerful general technology platform could lead to new treatments for a range of diseases and injuries involving cell loss or damage, such as heart disease, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The work was published January 30, 2011, in an advance, online issue of Nature Cell Biology.
“This work represents a new paradigm in stem cell reprogramming,” said Scripps Research Associate Professor Sheng Ding, Ph.D., who led the study. “We hope it helps overcome major safety and other technical hurdles currently associated with some types of stem cell therapies.”
The advantages of producing heart cells directly from skin cells while circumventing the normal route of reprogramming them first into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) include:
- saving the 2 to 4 weeks needed for the iPS reprogramming step
- saving 2 to 4 weeks needed to convert the iPS cells into heart cells
- avoiding the chance that undifferentiated iPS cells remain with the potential of becoming cancerous later on
- going from skin cells to beating heart cells in a dish in just 11 days
The converted skin cells beat much like seen in the video below. However, unlike the video which shows reprogrammed adult cells that have become beating heart tissue, the team introduced the same four genes initially used to make iPS cells into adult skin fibroblast cells, but instead of letting the genes be continuously active in cells for several weeks, they switched off their activities just after a few days, long before the cells had turned into iPS cells. Once the four genes were switched off, the scientists gave a signal to the cells to make them turn into heart cells.
(Video Citation: “Functional Cardiomyocytes Derived from Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells.” By Jianhua Zhang, Gisela F Wilson, Andrew G Soerens, Chad H Koonce, Junying Yu, Sean P Palecek, James A Thomson, and Timothy J Kamp. Circulation Research, Vol. 104 No. 3, Feb. 12, 2009.)
For a great tool on stem cells, be sure to download the Stem Cell Guide for Life Science Reserchers from Bio-Rad Laboratories.
Click here to read the full press release from the Scripps Research Institute.