UW researchers find safer way to reprogram cells

By Mark Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Having mastered the ability to roll back a cell’s clock to its embryonic origin, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison cleared a major technical hurdle this week, raising hopes that the technique could usher in a new kind of medicine that exploits the body’s own repair system.

Stem cell pioneer James Thomson and his colleagues reported Thursday that they have developed a safer way of turning cells from the foreskins of newborns into something very similar to embryonic stem cells.

Previous methods accomplished the trick but left behind viruses and outside genes, remnants of which could cause mutations, block the cells from growing into more specific types and even lead to tumors.

The UW team bypassed this obstacle by delivering the special genes with a plasmid, a small, very stable circle of DNA. This package reprogrammed the skin cells and was eventually diluted out of them. What remained were cells that appear to have the healing potential of embryonic stem cells, Thomson and his colleagues reported in the journal Science.

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