If doctors are ever going to use adult stem cells for medical treatments, they'll need to get a lot better at turning back the cellular clock and tricking regular old cells into becoming the multipurpose variety of their youth.
Scientists at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute says they've made progress on doing that with techniques that may make it more practical to avoid using stem cells derived from embryos.
Their advances would let scientists reprogram adult cells without monkeying with the DNA at their core. The Harvard group's approach is also more efficient than the cumbersome reprogramming steps involving viruses that were developed by pioneers in the field.
The key to the Harvard group's success is the use of messenger RNA which goes straight to the protein-making machinery inside the target cells. The mRNA tells the ribosomes to crank out proteins that do the reprogramming work, essentially telling the cell to reverse course and become an induced pluripotent stem cell.
Lead researcher Derrick Rossi told the Washington Post scientists now have a way to make "patient-specific cells highly efficiently and safely and also taking those cells to clinically useful cell types."
The work was just published online by the journal Cell Stem Cell.