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Scientists Develop Stem Cells for 10 Diseases

August 8, 2008

Scientists at Harvard have successfully created stem cells for 10 genetic disorders by using a new technique.

Researchers say this will allow them an unprecedented change to watch the diseases develop in a lab dish, which could speed up efforts to find treatments for disorders that are hard to treat.

Writing in the journal Cell, researchers said they plan to make the cell lines readily available to other scientists.

Dr. George Daley and his colleagues at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute used ordinary skin cells and bone marrow from people with a variety of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Down syndrome to produce the stem cells.

The new cells will allow researchers to “watch the disease progress in a dish, that is, to watch what goes right or wrong,” Doug Melton, co-director of the institute, said during a teleconference.

“I think we’ll see in years ahead that this opens the door to a new way to treating degenerative diseases,” he said.

Thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health and private contributions to the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, scientists were able to reprogram cells, giving them chameleon-like qualities of embryonic stem cells, which can morph into all kinds of tissue, such as heart, nerve and brain.

Research teams in Wisconsin and Japan were the first to report last November that they had reprogrammed skin cells, and that the cells had behaved like stem cells in a series of lab tests. Just last week, another Harvard team of scientists said they reprogrammed skin cells from two elderly patients with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and grew them into nerve cells.

Melton said the new disease-specific cell lines “represent a collection of degenerative diseases for which there are no good treatments and, more importantly, no good animal models for the most part in studying them.”

A new laboratory has been created to serve as a repository for the cells, and to distribute them to other scientists researching the diseases, Melton said.

“The hope is that this will accelerate research and it will create a climate of openness,” said Daley.




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