Scientists create stem cells for 10 disorders

Harvard scientists say they have created stems cells for 10 genetic disorders, which will allow researchers to watch the diseases develop in a lab dish.

This early step, using a new technique, could help speed up efforts to find treatments for some of the most confounding ailments, the scientists said.

The new work was reported online Thursday in the journal Cell, and the researchers said they plan to make the cell lines readily available to other scientists.

Dr. George Daley and his colleagues at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute used ordinary skin cells and bone marrow from people with a variety of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Down syndrome to produce the stem cells.

The new cells will allow researchers to “watch the disease progress in a dish, that is, to watch what goes right or wrong,” Doug Melton, co-director of the institute, said during a teleconference.

“I think we’ll see in years ahead that this opens the door to a new way to treating degenerative diseases,” he said.

The new technique reprograms cells, giving them the chameleon-like qualities of embryonic stem cells, which can morph into all kinds of tissue, such as heart, nerve and brain. As with embryonic stem cells, the hope is to speed medical research.

Research teams in Wisconsin and Japan were the first to report last November that they had reprogrammed skin cells, and that the cells had behaved like stem cells in a series of lab tests. Just last week, another Harvard team of scientists said they reprogrammed skin cells from two elderly patients with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and grew them into nerve cells.

Melton said the new disease-specific cell lines “represent a collection of degenerative diseases for which there are no good treatments and, more importantly, no good animal models for the most part in studying them.”

A new laboratory has been created to serve as a repository for the cells, and to distribute them to other scientists researching the diseases, Melton said.

“The hope is that this will accelerate research and it will create a climate of openness,” said Daley.

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3 thoughts on “Scientists create stem cells for 10 disorders

  1. Roslyn Ritz

    August 16, 2008: As a result of spinal stenosis and in spite of an upper spine operation where metal splints were inserted, I am still dependant on a walker or a cane for walking. Would stem cells be the answer? My 57 year old son has Parkinsons Disease and is on levadopa and other drugs. He still works and drives a car but I know the disease gets progressively worse. When do you believe that the stem cells will be available?

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