New technology making skin cells like stem cells

Stem cells, they could hold the key to the treatment and cure of more than 70 major diseases and conditions.

In the medical moment, we'll take you inside one lab that's taking stem cell technology another step into the future.

From broken hearts, to severed spines.

John Miksa, Paralyzed, explains the feeling when it first happened, "It was just like somebody took a tarp from the bottom of my neck and just peeled it back and took all the feeling from me."

To damaged brains.

Erwin Velbis, stroke survivor, explains what could have been his life, I was going to be drooling on a bib, in a wheelchair for the rest of my life."

The answer to heal them all may be found inside this lab.

Doctor Deepak Srivastava, MD, Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, describes that something amazing happened, "We had a major breakthrough."

Doctor Deepak Srivastava and Doctor Sheng Ding are two of the many minds at Gladstone Institute, using not adult stem cells or embryonic stem cells, but your own skin cells to repair bodies from the inside out.

Doctor Srivastava explains what could be possible with the breakthrough, "It means in the future one might be able to create new heart cells, new lung cells, new spinal cord cells, starting with your own cells from your skin."

Doctor Srivastava is taking adult skin cells, and turning them into beating heart cells. It's called direct reprogramming.

Doctor Srivastava describes what they have been able to do with the skin cells, "We've been able to create a beating heart cells that used to be on someone's skin...which is really like science fiction."

The same approach could be used to repair spinal cord injuries and practically any other part of the body.

Doctor Ding describes what else can be done with the cells, "We've been working on new methods that can convert cells from the skin to brain cells."

Doctor Ding has transformed the adult skin cells into neurons that are capable of transmitting brain signals. They hope this could reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke.

Doctor Srivastava describes how it could be unique for each person, "It's the ultimate in personalized medicine."

Medicine's next big thing, could be just, skin deep.

Doctors say because they're using a patient's own skin cells, there's little chance of rejection.

These skin cells could also be used to test new drugs and each person's response to those drugs, allowing doctors to better personalize medicine.


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BACKGROUND: Stem cells are the body's raw materials - cells from which all other cells with specialized functions are generated. Under the right conditions, stem cells divide to form more cells, called daughter cells. These daughter cells become new stem cells or specialized cells with a more specific function, such as blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle or bone. Stem cells are unique - no other cell in the body has the natural ability to generate new cell types. Researchers have discovered several sources of stem cells.
* Embryonic stem cells come from embryos that are four to five days old. They can divide into more stem cells or become any type of body cell. Because of this versatility, embryonic stem cells have the highest potential to regenerate or repair diseased tissue and organs.
* Adult stem cells are found in small numbers in most adult tissues. They are also found in children, placentas and umbilical cords. Until recently, it was believed that they could only create similar types of cells. For instance, it was thought that stem cells in bone marrow could give rise only to blood cells. However, emerging evidence suggests that adult stem cells may be able to create unrelated types of cells. For instance, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create muscle cells.
* Adult cells altered to have properties of embryonic stem cells through nuclear reprogramming. Scientists have successfully transformed adult cells into stem cells using this technique. By altering genes in adult cells, researchers can reprogram the cells to act similarly to embryonic stem cells. It's not known if this will cause adverse effects in humans.
* Amniotic fluid stem cells are found in the fluid that fills the sac surrounding a developing fetus in the uterus. More study of amniotic fluid stem cells is needed to understand their potential.

DIRECT REPROGRAMMING: A goal of regenerative medicine has been to take any cell from a person's body and turn it in to any other cell type that may be desired. This would eliminate several donor-compatibility problems, and potentially eliminate the need for a donor. Much progress has been made in direct reprogramming with muscle, blood, the pancreas, and neurons. There are many degrees of direct reprogramming that have been reported. Several progenitor cells, cells that appear committed to their fate, but not fully differentiated, have been shown to be capable of differentiating into a different cell type; this process is called transdetermination. However, in a few cases a fully differentiated cell can actually become a different cell type; this process is called transdifferentiation (Graf and Enver, 2009). (

GLADSTONE INSTITUTE: The J. David Gladstone Institutes is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), devoted to research into cardiovascular disease, viral infections and neurological disorders. Gladstone is composed of three institutes: The Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, which opened in 1979; the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology and the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease. While independent, Gladstone is formally affiliated with UCSF. Gladstone investigators participate in many university activities, including the teaching and training of graduate students.

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