Harvard researchers fused adult skin cells with embryonic stem cells in such a way that the genes of the embryonic cells reset the genetic clock of the adult cells, turning them back to their embryonic form.
Such adult-cum-embryo cells, taken from people with juvenile diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other genetic diseases, could reveal how such diseases develop and provide novel treatments for them. For example, normal cells might be made to replace abnormal ones that cause juvenile diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. It should be possible to coax these newly created embryonic cells “into replacement cells and even organs,” says biologist Chad Cowan who participated in the experiments. “But it would definitely not be possible to clone the person from which the adult cell came.”
Cowan is the lead author of a report of the research published in the Aug. 26 issue of Science. The other authors are Kevin Eggan, Douglas Melton, and Jocelyn Atienza of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.