Whether using embryonic or adult stem cells, coercing these master cells to convert to the desired target cell and reproduce flawlessly is difficult.
Now an international team of researchers has a two-part system that can convert the cells to the targets and then remove the remnants of that conversion, leaving only the desired DNA behind to duplicate.
“One difficulty with human pluripotent stem cells is that you can’t use them directly,” said Xiaojun Lian, assistant professor of biomechanical engineering, biology and a member of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Penn State.
Normally, pluripotent stem cells induced from both adult and embryonic cells receive a chemical signal to change from a stem cell to a functional cell. Pluripotent stem cells can change to any cell in the human body.
The second advantage is that once the cells are reproducing as heart cells or nerve cells, the plasmid can be removed and the cells continue to reproduce without any remnant of the plasmid system.
While the researchers are currently aiming to understand and study gene function and directed cell differentiation in human stem cells, eventually they would like to be able to create cell-based therapies for a range of degenerative diseases.