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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk