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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

UW- MADISON SCIENTISTS GUIDE HUMAN SKIN CELLS TO EMBRYONIC STATE

Ed Fallone, President of Wisconsin Stem Cell Now, Inc. (www.wistemcellnow.org) sent me a press release about a scientific breakthrough in stem cell research. There is now increased reason to believe that researchers can overcome the ethical and religious concerns that have been raised to delay progress in embryonic stem cell research. Perhaps now our elected leaders can rally around a national policy (and increased funding) sufficient to bring the potential of this
research to fruition.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - EMBARGO LIFTED BY THE JOURNAL SCIENCE

11/20/07

PHOTO EDITORS: High-resolution images are available at
http://www.news.wisc.edu/newsphotos/stemcells2007.html

CONTACT: Terry Devitt, (608) 262-8282, trdevitt@wisc.edu

UW-MADISON SCIENTISTS GUIDE HUMAN SKIN CELLS TO EMBRYONIC STATE


MADISON - In a paper to be published Nov. 22 in the online edition of
the journal Science, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison
researchers reports the genetic reprogramming of human skin cells to
create cells indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells.

The finding is not only a critical scientific accomplishment, but
potentially remakes the tumultuous political and ethical landscape of
stem cell biology as human embryos may no longer be needed to obtain the
blank slate stem cells capable of becoming any of the 220 types of cells
in the human body. Perfected, the new technique would bring stem cells
within easy reach of many more scientists as they could be easily made
in labs of moderate sophistication, and without the ethical and legal
constraints that now hamper their use by scientists.

The new study was conducted in the laboratory of UW-Madison biologist
James Thomson, the scientist who first coaxed stem cells from human
embryos in 1998. It was led by Junying Yu of the Genome Center of
Wisconsin and the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.

"The induced cells do all the things embryonic stem cells do," explains
Thomson, a professor of anatomy in the University of Wisconsin School of
Medicine and Public Health. "It's going to completely change the
field."

In addition to exorcising the ethical and political dimensions of the
stem cell debate, the advantage of using reprogrammed skin cells is that
any cells developed for therapeutic purposes can be customized to the
patient.

"They are probably more clinically relevant than embryonic stem cells,"
Thomson explains. "Immune rejection should not be a problem using these
cells."

An important caveat, Thomson notes, is that more study of the newly-made
cells is required to ensure that the "cells do not differ from embryonic
stem cells in a clinically significant or unexpected way, so it is
hardly time to discontinue embryonic stem cell research."

The successful isolation and culturing of human embryonic stem cells in
1998 sparked a huge amount of scientific and public interest, as stem
cells are capable of becoming any of the cells or tissues that make up
the human body.

The potential for transplant medicine was immediately recognized, as was
their promise as a window to the earliest stages of human development,
and for novel drug discovery schemes. The capacity to generate cells
that could be used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's, diabetes and
spinal cord injuries, among others, garnered much interest by patients
and patient advocacy groups.

But embryonic stem cells also sparked significant controversy as embryos
were destroyed in the process of obtaining them, and they became a
potent national political issue beginning with the 2000 presidential
campaign. Since 2001, a national policy has permitted only limited use
of some embryonic stem cell lines by scientists receiving public
funding.

In the new study, to induce the skin cells to what scientists call a
pluripotent state, a condition that is essentially the same as that of
embryonic stem cells, Yu, Thomson and their colleagues introduced a set
of four genes into human fibroblasts, skin cells that are easy to obtain
and grow in culture.

Finding a combination of genes capable of transforming differentiated
skin cells to undifferentiated stem cells helps resolve a critical
question posed by Dolly, the famous sheep cloned in 1996. Dolly was the
result of the nucleus of an adult cell transferred to an oocyte, an
unfertilized egg. An unknown combination of factors in the egg caused
the adult cell nucleus to be reprogrammed and, when implanted in a
surrogate mother, develop into a fully formed animal.

The new study by Yu and Thomson reveal some of those genetic factors.
The ability to reprogram human cells through well defined factors would
permit the generation of patient-specific stem cell lines without use of
the cloning techniques employed by the creators of Dolly.

"These are embryonic stem cell-specific genes which we identified
through a combinatorial screen," Thomson says. "Getting rid of the
oocyte means that any lab with standard molecular biology can do
reprogramming without difficulty to obtain oocytes."

Although Thomson is encouraged that the new cells will speed new
cell-based therapies to treat disease, more work is required, he says,
to refine the techniques through which the cells were generated to
prevent the incorporation of the introduced genes into the genome of the
cells. In addition, to ensure their safety for therapy, methods to
remove the vectors, the viruses used to ferry the genes into the skin
cells, need to be developed.

Using the new reprogramming techniques, the Wisconsin group has
developed eight new stem cell lines. As of the writing of the new
Science paper, which will appear in the Dec. 21, 2007 print edition of
the journal Science, some of the new cell lines have been growing
continuously in culture for as long as 22 weeks.

The new work was funded by grants from the Charlotte Geyer Foundation
and the National Institutes of Health. In addition to Yu and Thomson,
authors of the new study include Maxim A. Vodyanik, Kim Smuga-Otto,
Jessica Antosiewicz-Bourget, Jennifer L. Frane and Igor I. Slukvin, all
of UW-Madison; and Shulan Tian, Jeff Nie, Gudrun A. Jonsdottir, Victor
Ruotti and Ron Stewart, all of the WiCell Research Institute.

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