A new approach to producing stem cells from human skin called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, without the risk of introducing bothersome foreign DNA has been found by scientists at the University of NSW.
The technique is the first of its kind, and an important advance on a procedure designed by Japanese scientists who pioneered in the making on the first iPS cells back in 2007, said Associate Professor Kuldip Sidhu.
According to Dr Sidhu, the cells generated through the use of viral particles pose one of the many difficulties in the iPS cell technology.
He said, There has been a fear that while the technology was very robust, you could introduce foreign DNA to the genome, and the fear this could lead to carcinoma (cancer) down the track.
The recent development of the new technique by his team of researchers has successfully eliminated the fear, said Dr Kuldip.
In the latest technique, viral particles are not utilized but replaced by an extract obtained from the embryonic stem cells.
The extract stimulates the processed cell to become pluripotent, in other words able to differentiate into a broad array of different cells or tissues in the body.
This stem cells' unique capability is the best feature for scientists to develop treatments for incurable degenerative disease such as Huntington's, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
Currently, Dr Sidhu's team is working along with the UNSW's School of Psychiatry to create stem cell lines for the diseases.
The technique is hoped to be used in the treatment of Alzheimer's, for instance by using the patient's skin sample to create new batch of healthy brain cells for transplant - without the fear of rejection.
Dr Sidhu said, We can take a piece of skin from the patient to create patient-derived stem cell lines ... transplanting those cells into a patient without the fear of rejection.
While there is a future in using the new iPS cell technology to treat incurable disease, Dr Sidhu said it is too early to say if the technology would replace the need for embryonic stem cells as the iPS cells exhibit variability and instability in culture.
The next crucial step, according to Dr Sidhu is making the cells fit for long-term propagation, safe to be used in therapies.