A new method to reprogram adult cells making them similar to stem cells has been discovered. The key protein in the discovery is Wnt, already known to scientists for its involvement in numerous phases of development in vertebrates and invertebrates. The study, conducted by the Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine (TIGEM) in Naples by Maria Pia Cosma, was published in the online version of Cell Stem Cell magazine. The study involved various types of adult cells including fibroblasts, thymus cells, and neural precursor cells, which were fused with embryonic stem cells in the presence of the Wnt protein. Following the manipulation, the adult cells transformed into undifferentiated cells (pluripotent) able to give rise to cells and tissues different from their initial programming.
Cosma explained, “The new discovery is the ability of Wnt to promote this ‘reprogramming’”. Administering precise doses of the protein for a limited time, a high percentage of adult cells transform into cells that are similar to stem cells. According to experts, the discovery will lead to interesting prospects in therapy for many different kinds of pathologies involving irreversible tissue degenerations like Alzheimer’s , Parkinson’s, and heart diseases. This method could be a valid alternative to what is currently accepted by the international scientific community. At the end of 2007, two research groups simultaneously announced having obtained stem cells from skin cells introducing genes typical of the embryonic phase of our development through viral vectors able to bring them back to an undifferentiated state typical of stem cells.