Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

Customized Stem Cells

Reprogramming cells taken from disease sufferers could lead to new treatments.

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.

This story is part of our March/April 2008 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

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.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Online Only.
  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.