None of the Fuss

The world sees stem cells as one of the defining components of the modern era. Whether or not we agree with the ethical implications of stem cells derived from human embryos, none can dispute their potential and the many life-saving benefits that may come from this type of research. But what if we can have those benefits without having the huge ethical dilemma?

Now, it seems that we can.

Two separate studies have shown that skin cells can be turned into heart or brain cells—without any sort of stem cell therapy. The studies used drugs to coax skin cells into turning into heart and brain tissue, bypassing the safety and embryo concerns present in other forms of stem cells acquisition.

The heart wants

In the first research, published in Science, the researchers coaxed skin cells to become heart cells by using a cocktail of nine chemicals. Through this process, the skin cells became similar to multipotent stem cells (cells that can turn into many different types of cells in a particular organ). A second cocktail of chemicals and growth factors then helped transition the cells to become heart muscle cells.

When tested, this method allowed more than 97% of the cells to begin beating, meaning that they became fully developed, healthy heart cells. They also responded to hormones, and they resembled heart muscles, not skin muscles, on the molecular level. Transplanted into a live mouse heart, the cells were able to adapt and develop healthily into the organ.

Replacing grey matter

Similarly, the second research was successfully able to coax skin cells. But instead of the heart, the researchers went for the brain. Published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the research used similar approaches to the first research.

There were also nine molecules used in the chemical cocktail of the second experiments, and some of them were also the ones used in the first study. The cocktail worked its magic for ten days, after which the identity of the cells were already changed and all the genes of skin cells were turned off. Then, the genes of the neural stem-cell-like cells were gradually turned on.


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