June 21, 2011 | 0
The technique that allows researchers to make adult cells function as pluripotent stem cells—or cells that can become any body cell—was recently named "Method of the Year" by Nature Methods. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) Since the discovery of induced pluripotency in 2006 scientists have been searching for new ways to generate and use induced pluripotent stem cells.
In this image, which accompanies a paper published online on June 15 in Stem Cells, cells from a patient suffering from gyrate atrophy, a retinal disease, have been transformed into healthy photoreceptor cells. To achieve this effect, lead author Jason Meyer, a biologist at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, first differentiated the cells into neural cells, and then further specified them to be retinal cells. The image was generated using immunocytochemical methods, with the different staining highlighting elements specific to photoreceptor cells.
Because of specific genetic and cellular characteristics, inherited retinal degenerative diseases are an excellent test bed for modeling human induced pluripotent stem cells. Gyrate atrophy, a genetic disease that generally leads to blindness by age 50, is extremely rare. But the researchers hope that their findings might eventually lead to new treatments for more widespread causes of blindness.
"This is exciting because it demonstrates we can fix something that is out of order," Meyer said in a prepared statement. "It also supports our belief that in the future one might be able to use this approach for replacement of cells lost or malfunctioning due to other more common diseases of the retina."
—Lauren F. Friedman
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