Scientists have for the first time derived embryonic stem cells from individual patients, raising the possibility of personalised genetic treatments.
A team of scientists at The New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) Lab in New York created the cells through a cloning process, by adding the nuclei of adult skin cells from patients with type 1 diabetes to unfertilized donor eggs.
Such patient-specific cells could potentially be used to replace damaged or diseased cells without fear of rejection by the patient's immune system. They could help treat diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's.
"The specialized cells of the adult human body have an insufficient ability to regenerate missing or damaged cells caused by many diseases and injuries," says Dr Dieter Egli, NYSCF senior scientist.
"But if we can reprogram cells to a pluripotent state, they can give rise to the very cell types affected by disease, providing great potential to effectively treat and even cure these diseases.
There's a lot more work to be done. In this initial study, the stem cells produced were abnormal, meaning they couldn't be safely used. They contain genetic material from two people, rather than just the patient, and have 69 chromosomes rather than the usual 46. However, the team believes it can solve this problem.
"In this three-year study, we successfully reprogrammed skin cells to the pluripotent state," says Egli.
"Our hope is that we can eventually overcome the remaining hurdles and use patient-specific stem cells to treat and cure people who have diabetes and other diseases."
There's a full report in Nature.