BOSTON, Mass. (November 21, 2010)As debilitating as disease can be, sometimes it acts as a teacher.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Dental Medicine have found that by mimicking a rare genetic disorder in a dish, they can rewind the internal clock of a mature cell and drive it back into an adult stem-cell stage. This new "stem cell" can then branch out into a variety of differentiated cell types, both in culture and in animal models.
"This certainly has implications for personalized medicine, especially in the area of tissue engineering," says Bjorn Olsen, the Hersey Professor of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School and Dean of Research at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
These findings appear November 21, online in Nature Medicine.
Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP), which affect fewer than 1,000 people worldwide, is a horrific genetic disease in which acute inflammation causes soft tissue to morph into cartilage and bone. Over the course of a few decades, patients gradually become thoroughly ossified, as though parts of their body have turned to stone. There is no cure or treatment.
Damian Medici, an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, found that, unlike normal skeletal tissue, the pathological cartilage and bone cells from these patients contained biomarkers specific for endothelial cellscells that line the interior of blood vessels. This led him to question whether or not the cartilage and bone growing in soft tissues of FOP patients had an endothelial origin.
Medici and his colleagues transferred the mutated gene that causes FOP into normal endothelial cells. Unexpectedly, the endothelial cells converted into a cell type nearly identical to what are called mesenchymal stem cells, or adult stem cells that can differentiate into bone, cartilage, muscle, fat, and even nerve cells. (Embryonic
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Harvard Medical School