May 26, 2024

Stem cell breakthrough at Harvard

Depends on synthetic modified messenger RNA molecules


Scientists at Harvard Medical School have
developed an even better way of producing alternatives to human embryonic stem
cells (hESCs). The new technique, which appears to be a huge improvement over
induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, is being described as a major advance.

While iPS cells are very promising, they
have significant drawbacks. The process for generating them is very inefficient
and they can cause cancer. The new method, developed by a team headed by
Derrick Rossi and published
in the journal Cell Stem Cell
, does not require risky genetic modification
and holds great promise for making the reprogramming process more
therapeutically relevant. Synthetic modified messenger RNA molecules encode the
appropriate proteins but without integrating into the cell’s DNA.

“All I can say is ‘wow’ – this is a
game changer,” said Robert Lanza, a stem cell researcher at Advanced Cell
Technology told the Washington
. “It would solve some of the most important problems in the

“Our technology represents a safe,
efficient strategy for somatic cell reprogramming and directing cell fate that
has wide ranging applicability for basic research, disease modeling and
regenerative medicine,” says Dr Rossi. “We believe that our approach
has the potential to become a major and perhaps even central enabling
technology for cell-based therapies.”

What are the ethical implications?

Richard M. Doerflinger of the US Conference
of Catholic Bishops told the Post: “With each new study it becomes more
and more implausible to claim that scientists must rely on destruction of human
embryos to achieve rapid progress in regenerative medicine.”

However, the director of the National
Institutes of Health, Francis S. Collins, insisted that research on hESCs must
continue as they are a gold standard. “Previous research has shown that iPS
cells retain some memory of their tissue of origin, which may have important
implications for their use in therapeutics,” he said. “To explore these
important potential differences, iPS research must continue to be conducted
side by side with human embryonic cell research.”  ~ Eurekalert,
Sept 30
, Harvard,
Sept 30

Michael Cook
stem cells