The discovery late last year of a way to generate stem cells from adult skin cells could allow scientists to study disease in unprecedented detail, from earliest inception to final biochemical demise. That’s because the stem cells could be used to develop cell lines derived from people with a given disease–neurons from Alzheimer’s patients, for example, or blood cells from people with sickle-cell anemia. The resulting trove of cells would capture all the genetic quirks of these complex diseases.
By comparing the development and behavior of cells derived from healthy and diseased people, scientists could determine how disease unfolds at a cellular level, identifying points in the process where intervention might do some good. They could also use the cells to test drugs that might correct biochemical abnormalities. “We want to use these cells to ask and answer questions that can’t be asked and answered any other way,” says M. William Lensch, a scientist at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.
Lensch and collaborators in George Daley’s lab at Children’s Hospital in Boston are attempting to create stem-cell lines using tissue samples collected from people with Huntington’s disease, sickle-cell anemia, and another blood disease called Fanconi anemia. Other scientists are expected to follow suit, investigating other diseases.
Credit: Tami Tolpa
1. A biopsy extracts skin cells from an Alzheimer’s patient.
2. Scientists use viruses to insert four genes–normally expressed in developing embryos–into the cells.
3. These genes manage to reprogram some of the cells to turn into colonies of embryonic stem cells.
4. Exposure to specific chemicals then coaxes the cells to grown into neurons.
This scientist now believes covid started in Wuhan’s wet market. Here’s why.
How a veteran virologist found fresh evidence to back up the theory that covid jumped from animals to humans in a notorious Chinese market—rather than emerged from a lab leak.
How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation
The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.
We still don’t know enough about the omicron variant to panic
The variant has caused alarm and immediate border shutdowns—but we still don't know how it will respond to vaccines.
NSO was about to sell hacking tools to France. Now it’s in crisis.
French officials were close to buying controversial surveillance tool Pegasus from NSO earlier this year. Now the US has sanctioned the Israeli company, and insiders say it’s on the ropes.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.