A Back Step Forward with Stem Cells
Here's the story at PhysOrg:
Breaking new ground, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster, Germany, have succeeded in obtaining somatic stem cells from fully differentiated somatic cells. Stem cell researcher Hans Schöler and his team took skin cells from mice and, using a unique combination of growth factors while ensuring appropriate culturing conditions, have managed to induce the cells' differentiation into neuronal somatic stem cells.
Wait, some will protest. This is old news -- embryonic stem cells have been produced from fully differentiated cells for some time. Yes, they have. The important thing to note about embryonic stem cells is that they are pluripotent -- that is, they can become anything. They're just the sort of thing you need when building a whole new body from scratch. But these somatic stem cells are only multipotent. They are what the body uses to grow and maintain specific parts of the body. Unlike pluripotent cells, multipotent stem cells are severely constrained as to what they can develop into.
And this, it turns out, is a good thing.
...[P]luripotent stem cells exhibit such a high degree of plasticity that under the wrong circumstances they may form tumours instead of regenerating a tissue or an organ.It turns out that fully undifferentiated, fully pluripotent stem cells are hard to manage and can go in dangerous directions. These multipotent somatic cells open up many possibilities for treatment without incurring the risks and complexities that arise from pluripotent cells. Potentially we will see more reliable treatments, faster.
That's a pretty cool step back!