Aug. 22, 2005 -- Researchers report they have developed the ability to reprogram an adult cell into human embryonic stem cells -- called hybrid stem cells -- in a lab experiment.
The technique involves fusing an embryonic stem cell to an adult human skin cell, creating a hybrid that acts like an embryonic stem cell.
Researchers working on the study included Kevin Eggan, PhD, a Harvard University assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology. Their study appears in Science.
Embryonic stem cells -- unlike adult cells -- can develop into all different cell types and have the ability to continually renew themselves. That potential feature has attracted attention from researchers seeking new treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as spinal paralysis. But the source of embryonic stem cells has brought controversy.
More Work Ahead
The hybrid cells created by Eggan and colleagues have a catch. They aren't ready for direct therapeutic research.
The hybrid cells have a double set of chromosomes -- one set from each cell that made them. That rules out using those hybrid cells in therapeutic research. Ideally, scientists want the embryonic stem cell to turn back the clock on an adult cell without leaving its DNA behind.
That is a "fundamental barrier," researcher Kevin Eggan, PhD, told reporters in a conference call. He says that though the strategy needs more work, it's "a platform we can stand upon to begin to study the phenomenon in a different way."
If that stumbling block can be overcome, the technique could be used in therapeutic research, says Eggan. He estimates that that could take five or 10 years.
If successful, the strategy may be used to create lines of hybrid stem cells for research. That could avoid "some of the logistical and societal concerns" about research involving embryonic stem cells, write Eggan and colleagues.