Plan for non-embryo stem cell technique suffers setback

A revolutionary technique that promised to turn a patient's skin cells into vital replacement tissue for transplant surgery has suffered a setback that could scupper its wider use in medicine. The technique allowed scientists to make "embryonic" stem cells without using embryos, raising the prospect of humans being able to turn stem cells derived from a flake of skin into specialised tissues such as heart muscle to brain cells.

However, two independent teams of scientists reported yesterday that these so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells do not behave exactly like the stem cells found in early human embryos that are just a few days old, which are known to be able to develop into any of the scores of specialised human cells.

Stem cells have generated intense interest because of their potential to be used to make replacement parts for the body but the only proven way of generating them safely and successfully has involved the use of embryos, possibly through the "nuclear transfer" process, or cloning, that resulted in Dolly the sheep in 1996.

However, four years ago a Japanese scientist called Shinya Yamanaka showed it is possible to produce stem cells with embryonic-like qualities by tinkering with a few of the key developmental genes. He called them induced pluripotent stem cells.

Many experts believed that iPS cells offered a way out of the ethical dilemma of using human embryos in stem cell research but the latest findings suggest that it is not easy to make iPS cells that have all the characteristics of the "gold standard" stem cells found in early embryos.

The two research teams both found that the iPS they created retained a "memory" of the specialised cells, such as skin, that were used to create them. The researchers effectively found that the iPS cells were not completely reprogrammed back to the early embryonic stage of development, which might cause problems if they were ever to be used in transplant operations. "Induced pluripotent stem cells retain a 'memory' of their tissue of origin – iPS cells made from blood are easier to turn back into blood than, say, iPS cells made from skin cells or brain cells," said George Daley of the Children's Hospital in Boston, who led one of the research teams whose findings are published in the journal Nature.

"These findings cut across all clinical applications people are pursuing and whatever disease they are modelling ... Everyone working with these cells has to think about the tissues of origin and how that affects reprogramming," Dr Daley said.

Konrad Hochedlinger of the Massachusetts General Hospital, who was part of the second study, published in Nature Biotechnology, said it is possible to fade this memory of iPS cells but only by allowing them to divide over and over again. "How faithfully iPS cells can be reprogrammed into a truly embryonic state has been a longstanding question, and we have found that the cell of origin does affect the capacity of iPS cells to differentiate in vitro into particular cell types. But when cultured iPS cells go through many rounds of cell division, they lose that memory," he said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game