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UW-Madison scientists guide human skin cells to embryonic state
Date:11/20/2007

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."

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Contact: Terry Devitt
trdevitt@wisc.edu
608-262-8282
University of Wisconsin-Madison  
Source:Eurekalert

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