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Researchers Develop Stem Line With Sickle Cell Mutation

Technique could allow scientists to more quickly screen models for drugs to treat diseases

THURSDAY, May 29 (HealthDay News) -- Using a faster and more efficient method of reprogramming adult stem cells to an embryonic stem cell-like state, Johns Hopkins researchers developed a human stem cell line containing the mutation associated with sickle cell anemia.

"We hope our new cell lines can open the door for researchers who study diseases like sickle cell anemia that are limited by the lack of good experimental models," Linzhao Cheng, an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics, medicine and oncology, and a member of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering, said in a prepared statement.

The researchers found that using a viral protein called SV40 large T antigen, along with four genes known to trigger adult cells to reprogram into embryonic-like stem cells, resulted in reprogramming within 12 to 14 days, compared to three to four weeks when large T wasn't used.

"Not only did T speed up reprogramming, we also found that it increases the total number of reprogrammed cells, which is great because often in reprogramming, not all cells go all the way," Cheng said.

Using this new method, the researchers created embryonic-like stem cells that contained the mutation that causes sickle cell anemia.

"One challenge to studying blood diseases like sickle cell anemia is that blood stem cells can't be kept alive for very long in the lab, so researchers need to keep returning to patients for more cells to study," Cheng said. "Having these new cell lines available might enable some bigger projects, like screening for potential drugs."

The study was published online May 29 in the journal Stem Cells.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins, news release, May 29, 2008

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