U.S. company finds "safer" way to make stem-like cells

Thu May 28, 2009 6:39pm EDT
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. researchers said on Thursday they had come up with the safest way yet to make stem-like cells using a patient's ordinary skin cells, this time by using pure human proteins.

The team at Harvard University and Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology Inc said their technique involves soaking cells in human proteins that turn back the clock biologically, making the cells behave like powerful embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell sees almost immediate commercial applications.

"After a few more flight tests -- in order to assure everything is working properly -- it should be ready for commercial use," Lanza said by e-mail.

He said the company would seek Food and Drug Administration permission to test the cells in people by next year -- a process unlikely to be quick, especially with a brand-new technology such as this one.

Stem cells are the body's master cells, giving rise to all the tissues, organs and blood. Embryonic stem cells are considered the most powerful kind, as each one is pluripotent, with the potential to morph into any type of tissue.

Doctors hope to someday use them to transform medicine, for instance, by regenerating the cells destroyed in type 1 diabetes or regrowing eye cells to reverse blindness.

But embryonic cells require the use of an embryo or cloning technology, and several countries, including the United States, limit funding for such experiments.   Continued...

<p>A fluorescent microscope image shows human embryonic stem cells in this photo taken at Stanford University and released by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, March 9, 2009. REUTERS/Michael Longaker/Stanford University School of Medicine/California Institute for Regenerative Medicine/Handout</p>