Scientists from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) have for the first time converted human skin cells into embryonic stem cells that can transform into any other cell type in the human body. This feat was achieved after more than 15 years of failures by scientists around the world.
The method used for cloning was similar to that used for creating ‘Dolly the sheep’ - the first cloned mammal. Scientists by turning human skin cells into embryonic stem cells overcame technical problems that had frustrated them for many years. The team led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D and a senior scientist at ONPRC had in an earlier experiment in 2007 successfully transformed monkey skin cells into embryonic stem cells.
Researchers also made an effort to not use fertilized embryos as it is a topic of significant debate related to ethics. Instead, they used somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) wherein the nucleus of a skin cell which has the DNA, is implanted into an egg cell which does not contain any genetic material. The unfertilized egg cell then develops and eventually produces stem cells which have the potential to develop into different cells found in the body. Mitalipov said since the reprogrammed cells can be created with nuclear genetic material from a patient, there isn’t any concern of transplant rejection.
The stem cells produced by the cloned embryos are capable of regenerating cells damaged by illness or injury. It is expected that this technique will help in treating Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cardiac disease and spinal cord injuries. If the Dolly technique used herein becomes a reliable source of embryonic stem cells then it will speed up the clinical trials of the cells and benefit mankind as a whole.