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Stem Cells from Human Skin

Australian researchers at the University of NSW have found a way to generate stem cells from human skin - known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells – without introducing the risk of troublesome “foreign DNA”.

One of the difficulties of the iPS cell technology is the cells are generated by the use of viral particles. “There has been a fear that, while the technology was very robust, you could introduce foreign DNA to the genome, and the fear this could lead to carcinoma (cancer) down the track. That fear has been eliminated in this technique”. Dr Sidhu’s technique does not use viral particles but it does require an extract taken from embryonic stem cells.

  • The extract allows the processed cell to become pluripotent – able to develop into a range of different cells or tissues in the body,
  • This capability is why stem cells are seen as the best hope yet for providing treatments for now incurable degenerative diseases,
  • Dr Sidhu’s laboratory is collaborating with the UNSW’s School of Psychiatry to produce stem cell lines for Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases,
  • It is hoped to lead to an Alzheimer’s treatment, for example, that could start with a skin sample taken from a patient and finish with a fresh batch of healthy brain cells ready for transplant.

“We can take a piece of skin from the patient to create patient-derived stem cell lines … transplanting those cells into a patient without the fear of rejection,” Dr Sidhu said. “There is a future in using this … to treat many diseases which otherwise cannot be treated at the moment … and it was still too early to say whether iPS cells would totally replace the need for embryonic stem cells which are – more controversially – harvested from human embryos. The iPS cells we’ve created appear very similar to embryonic stem cells, but they also exhibit variability and instability in culture.”

The next step is to make these cells suitable for long-term propagation, so they can be used in therapies. A paper was published in the journal PLoS One. (HWM and AAP)