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News Link • Adult Stem Cell Technology

Scientists Turn Adult Red Blood Cells Into Embryonic Stem Cells

• Colin Lecher via

Despite the ethical and political differences they incite, stem cells are still a miraculous medicine, potentially able to change into whatever a sick body needs them to be. The only way to get them, though, is from actual embryos. If we could get around that, theoretically, the problems would be gone. Johns Hopkins scientists are making progress there, creating them from a non-controversial supply of something we have in bulk: adult red blood cells.

It's not impossible for us to turn red blood cells into stem cells already: Viruses can be harnessed to set the clock back on the cells by delivering genes to them, but that can come with complications, like mutated genes or cancer. Instead, this technique (just published in PLoS One uses plasmids, DNA rings that replicate inside cells, then degrade. By jolting the cells with an electrical pulse, researchers created tiny holes holes in the cells that the plasmids could slip through. The plasmids then inserted genes that cause the red blood cells to change to induced-pluripotent stem cells, or iPS--embryonic-like cells that act as if they were part of a 6-day-old embryo. Unlike other processes, the cells were also introduced into a simulated version of the bone marrow environment they're usually in.

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