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UCSF Team Closer to Creating Safe Embryonic-Like Stem Cells
Date:4/13/2009

ult cells, such as those of the heart, lung and brain. These cells could then be transplanted into patients, without the fear of rejection.

The study, reported in the April 12, 2009 advanced online edition of the journal "Nature Biotechnology" and scheduled for the May 8, 2009 print issue, used a combination of microRNAs and retrovirus-introduced genes to transform fibroblast cells -- found throughout the body of mice and humans -- into pluripotent cells.

The current finding comes on the heels of a study published by the group in the December 2008 print edition of "Nature Genetics" that showed that microRNAs, which can be synthesized in the lab, encouraged embryonic stem cells to self-replicate, a finding that has implications for replicating stem cells in the culture dish and exploring stem cells' role in cancers.

Previous methods for creating embryonic stem cell-like cells have relied on the introduction of DNA that encodes four transcription factors, proteins that play a role in the production of genes. The limitation of this method is that three of the four genes that code for these transcription factors -- oct4, klf4 and c-myc - are oncogenes, meaning they promote the uncontrolled cell growth characteristic of cancer.

In the current study, led by Robert Judson, a graduate student in the Blelloch lab, the scientists induced pluripotency using a combination of infection and transfection. The infection involved introducing three viruses, each containing a transcription factor known to induce pluripotency. The transcription factor for c-myc was not included. The transfection involved a simple process in which the tiny microRNA molecules were mixed with a lipid, allowing them to pass through the cell membrane. By labeling the fibroblast cells, they showed that the treated cells could be incorporated into a mouse embryo and become every cell type in the adult animal -- including germline cells that would prod
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