It's a discordant note in the symphony of good news that usually accompanies stem cell research announcements. Stem cells hold enormous promise in regenerative medicine, thanks to their ability to regenerate diseased or damaged tissues. They have made it possible to markedly improve the effectiveness of many medical treatments muscle regeneration in cases of dystrophy, skin grafts for treating burn victims, and the treatment of leukemia via bone marrow transplants.
The problem is obtaining them. Those that are the true source of life, in the first days of embryonic development, are of course the most highly sought after; still undifferentiated, they are "pluripotent," meaning they can evolve into liver, muscle, eye any kind of cell. But the issue of how to obtain them clearly raises insurmountable ethical questions.
"In this regard, the recent discovery of the "reprogramming" phenomenon, by which somatic cells can be induced to convert to a pluripotent state simply by forcing the expression of a few genes, opens a phenomenal number of possibilities in regenerative medicine," says Didier Trono, Dean of the EPFL School of Life Sciences. "Imagine, for example, collecting a few cells from the hair follicle of a hemophiliac patient, reprogramming them to the pluripotentiality of their embryonic precursor, correcting the mutation responsible for the coagulation disorder that plagues the patient, and then re-administering them, genetically "cured," after having orchestrated a differentiation into fully functional progeny."
Increased risks for cancer?
But a study that has just been published in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation, to be followed by two articles in the journal Nature, is dampening those hopes. Conducted by the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Geneva and the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, with the participation of Trono's laboratory, it concludes that these reprogr
|Contact: Emmanuel Barraud|
Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne