A ground-breaking development in stem cell research has seen adult tissue in mice converted back to an embryonic state.
Researchers from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid have reported in the journal Nature their recreation in mice of a process of stimulating cellular regression to an multipotent embryonic state using a combination of chemicals, developed with skin samples in the laboratory.
Mice were genetically engineered to produce the chemicals in response to administration of a specific drug; target tissue was successfully transformed back to an embryonic state, a form of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell – but in an uncontrolled manner. It resulted in the formation tumours called teratomas in multiple organs.
Ultimately, it is hoped that these experiments could lead to advances in regenerative medicine, stimulating permanently damaged tissue to repair itself. However, developing the capacity to stimulate repair in a safely controlled manner without the risk of tumours could be a very long way off. Lead researcher Prof Manuel Serrano explained: "We have to find conditions where we reprogramme only partially so that they acquire a plastic state and repair the tissue".
Nevertheless, it is an important step forward for stem cell research and could aid other forms of medical research too.