A US scientist has said that a patient's own skin cells could one day be used to treat him/her for diseases as diverse as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and cancer.
Such therapies would avoid the controversial need for using stem cells derived from human embryos, and in theory, also bypass immunological problems inherent in using cells from one person to treat another.
However, in recent years, unique problems inherent in the use of stem cells derived from adult cells - so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) - have surfaced and even their immunological safety has been called into question.
But now, Paul S. Knoepfler, UC Davis associate professor of cell biology and human anatomy, has found a way to overcome those obstacles with a new and novel approach.
"iPSCs offer the potential to treat many diseases as an alternative or adjuvant therapy to drugs or surgery," said Knoepfler.
"Problems that have been identified with their use likely can be overcome, allowing iPSCs to jump from the laboratory dish to patients who could benefit from them."
iPSCs were first produced in 2006 from mouse cells and in 2007 from human cells. They have many of the same regenerative properties as human embryonic stem cells, but they are derived in a lab from adult cells, such as skin cells, by inducing or forcing them to express specific genes that are normally dormant in that type of cell.
In theory, a person's skin cells could be induced to make neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, for example, and be delivered to brain regions where it is lacking in patients with Parkinson's disease.
Similarly, cells could be induced to regenerate heart muscle and blood vessels after a heart attack, or neurons following a spinal cord injury.
The study will be published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.