Researchers at Boston’s Harvard Stem Cell Institute discovered a way to reprogram human skin cells so that they become stem cells, bypassing the creation of stem cell lines from human embryos.
Research published in the journal Cell Stem Cell details how the team, led by Derrick Rossi, used RNA from stem cells to transform ordinary skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells. The technique avoids using a virus to carry new genes into the cells — and the controversial destruction of human embryos to derive stem cells.
That technique is at the heart of high-profile legal wrangling between the U.S. government and two researchers who sued to stop federal funding of research using stem cells from embryos. Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled late in the summer that federal funds could not be used for the the research, derailing scores of projects looking into the causes of diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis. President Barack Obama had sought to restore stem cell research funding from constraints imposed under the Bush administration, but Lamberth ruled that the policy violated the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, aimed at stopping the destruction of human embryos. This week a three-judge panel on a federal appeals lifted Lamberth’s injunction barring the funding.
Now Rossi’s team’s discovery may make the case a moot point.
“This is going to be very exciting to the research community,” Rossi told the Washington Post. “We now have an experimental paradigm for generating patient-specific cells highly efficiently and safely and also taking those cells to clinically useful cell types.”
In fact, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute has already ordered its scientists to switch to the new process, according to the Post.
“All I can say is ‘wow’ — this is a game changer,” added Dr. Robert Lanza, a stem cell researcher at Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass. “It would solve some of the most important problems in the field.”
“This paper is a major paper, in my view, in the field of regenerative medicine,” added Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, according to the Post.