A new discovery from OMRF could allow scientists to transform adult cells into stem cells.
Using adult cells obtained from humans and the bone marrow, spleens and kidneys of mice, OMRF’s Carol Webb, Ph.D., reprogrammed the cells into a stem-cell-like condition. Once in this state, further research could allow scientists to transform the cells—known as induced pluripotent stem cells—into more specialized cells, such as heart or nerve tissue.
The finding holds potential for treating a wide range of conditions, from leukemia to hearing loss to spinal cord injuries. It also offers promise that adult cells could be used as a plentiful and non-controversial alternative to embryonic stem cells.
In Dr. Webb’s work, no embryos were destroyed in reprogramming. Instead, by adding reagents to ordinary adult cells found throughout the body’s immune system, she was able to inhibit the function of a protein (known technically as Arid3A). This, in turn, enabled those cells to return to a more primitive and changeable state.
“After inhibiting the protein, we saw the adult cells become cells that look like nerve cells and others that became like cells in the lining of blood vessels,” Webb said. “It was a totally unexpected development.”
“This is an extraordinary finding,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “While other labs have been able to reprogram adult cells, the method Dr. Webb has discovered is faster and more efficient.”
Although adult cells reprogrammed by other methods have become tumors, the ones created by Webb did not. “This work fuels the hope that we may one day be able to use a patient’s own cells to regenerate damaged tissue,” said Prescott.
Webb cautioned that the altered cells she created might not become fully pluripotent, meaning they would not be capable of changing into all types of cells. “At this point, we know very little about how to direct the cells to become the exact kind we want,” she said. “That represents the next phase of our work.”
In the shorter term, the discovery could lead to a more efficient process for creating stem cells to treat people with leukemia. In the long term, Webb said the process could be used to explore novel regenerative treatments.
“For example, we think this discovery could lead to a method for regrowing the hairs inside our ears,” she said. “This could help people suffering from hearing loss.” The work, she said, might also one day lead to new therapies for spinal cord injuries, type I diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases.
The research will appear in the scientific journal Stem Cells. University of Texas at Austin researcher Phil Tucker, Ph.D., and Oklahoma Center for Adult Stem Cell Research scientific director Paul Kincade, Ph.D., collaborated on the paper. The research was funded by grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.