Stem cells without genetic defects heralded as breakthrough

(Stem Cells News image)

The prospect of treating genetic diseases with corrected stem cells grown from patients’ own bodies has moved closer, after the results of a remarkable experiment.

Scientists have successfully reprogrammed skin tissue from people with a rare form of anaemia to create powerful stem cells, while at the same time rectifying the genetic defect that causes the condition.

The corrected stem cells could be grown into blood precursor cells for therapy. As these would carry a patient’s own DNA, except for the mutation responsible for the illness, they could be transplanted without risk of rejection by the body’s immune system.

Though the research team, from Spain and the United States, has yet to use the cells to treat patients, and several important hurdles still remain, the achievement has been hailed as a significant advance for stem cell research.

It suggests that it should eventually be possible to treat many inherited conditions by making disease-free stem cells from their own bodies. (…)

The cells were infected with a genetically modified virus to correct the gene that causes Fanconi anaemia. These were then reprogrammed into an embryo-like state by modifying further genes, to create versatile master cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells). (…)

Chris Mathew, Professor of Molecular Genetics at King’s College London, said: “This is an important development for families with this rare, inherited blood disorder. The patients have low numbers of blood stem cells in their bone marrow, so there are very few target cells to correct by gene therapy.

“The new research shows that it is possible to reprogramme skin cells from these patients into stem cells in which the genetic defect has been corrected. In future it may become possible to transfer the corrected stem cells back into the patient, but much work remains to be done.”

Read full article on Times Online

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