Stem cell researchers makes breakthrough

Researchers have developed a new technique for creating human embryonic stem cells by fusing adult somatic cells with embryonic stem cells. The fusion causes the adult cells to undergo genetic reprogramming, which results in cells that have the developmental characteristics of human embryonic stem cells.

This approach could become an alternative to somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a method that is currently used to produce human stem cells. SCNT involves transferring the nuclei of adult cells, called somatic cells, into oocytes in which scientists have removed the nuclei.

The researchers said that - while the technique might one day be used along with SCNT, which involves the use of unfertilized human eggs -- technical hurdles must be cleared before the new technique sees widespread use. It is more likely that the new technique will see immediate use in helping to accelerate understanding of how embryonic cells "reprogram" somatic cells to an embryonic state, reports Medical News Today.

Timothy Kamp, a stem cell researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said to Journal Sentinel, the new development could prove to be an important research tool.

But "I don't think it's the biggest breakthrough in stem cell biology that we are going to see," said Kamp, an associate professor of medicine. "It's not there. It's not ready for clinical applications. It doesn't change the fact that embryonic stem cells are quite distinct from these hybrids."

Figuring out how to eliminate the extra set of chromosomes created in the process is a huge problem, Kamp said.

"Right now there is no technology we know of that can get rid of that extra DNA," he said.

Even if that is accomplished, additional lines of embryonic stem cells will have to be created, he said.

Existing lines are too limited, too old and too lacking in genetic diversity to meet the needs of researchers, he said.

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