U.S. scientists have found a new way to create stem cells by using chemical programming instead of genetic manipulation, according to a new study published on Thursday.
By using the new method, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California successfully converted adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells, said the study appearing online in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Such "chemical" programming avoids problems that genetic manipulation poses, according to the study.
Gene manipulation is an older method that has posed the risk of serious health problems such as cancer, the researchers explained.
The ability to make stem cells without genetically altering them could lead to the development of many new types of therapies for a wide range of diseases, including type 1 diabetes and Parkinson's disease, the team noted in their study.
"We are very excited about this breakthrough in generating embryonic-like cells from fibroblasts (cells that give rise to connective tissue) without using any genetic material. Scientists have been dreaming about this for years," research leader Sheng Ding, an associate professor at the institute said.
Ding and his colleagues reprogrammed adult cells by engineering and using recombinant proteins, which are proteins made from the recombination of fragments of DNA from different organisms. They experimented with these proteins until they found the exact mix that enabled them to gradually reprogram the adult cells.
The reprogrammed embryonic-like cells from fibroblasts behaved the same as embryonic stem cells in terms of molecular and functional features, including differentiation into various cell types, such as neurons, pancreatic cells and beating cardiac muscle cells, the study said.