60-Second Science

Researchers Turn Human Skin Cells into Blood Cells

Using viral gene insertion and regulatory proteins, researchers turned adult human skin cells directly into adult human blood cells, without first returning them to a fully pluripotent state. Steve Mirsky reports

One of the dreams of biomedical scientists is to be able to transform adult cells into other kinds of cells. And thus avoid some of the ethical concerns of working with embryonic stem cells. Now a research team from McMaster University in Ontario has announced that they’ve been able to transform human skin cells into blood cells. The work was published online on November 7th by the journal Nature. [Eva Szabo et al., "Direct conversion of human fibroblasts to multilineage blood progenitors"]

Other research in this area has required that cells of one type first be returned to a more generally undifferentiated stem cell state, which can introduce fresh problems. Once there, the cell is then turned into the type of tissue the researchers seek. But in this case, the scientists avoided the middleman cell. The skin was changed directly into what appears to be functional adult human blood cells. The technique involves gene insertion by a virus vector and exposure to numerous regulatory proteins.

The cells have not been tested in humans to see if they’re truly indistinguishable from the home-grown kind. But the research is another step in the effort to create needed cell types from easily available ones.

—Steve Mirsky

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

For more, see Cellular 'alchemy' transforms skin into blood

[Scientific American is part of the Nature Publishing Group.]

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