Lifewatch: Cells to mice

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - New experiments with mice could lead to breakthrough treatments for human diseases while avoiding the ethical problem of embryonic stem cell research.

Kristin Baldwin and her colleagues at Scripps Research Institute have inserted a skin cell into a mouse embryo, and from that, into a living mouse - opening the door for possible new treatments for human disease.

"This is a way to make person-specific replacement cells for things like spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's Disease, and diabetes," said Baldwin.

Baldwin's staff has reprogrammed normal cells so they work just like embryonic stem cells, but no actual embryos are used or destroyed in the process.  That avoids the touchy political and moral issue of stem cell research.

The reprogrammed cells can then be specialized.

"You can make beating heart cells," said Baldwin. "You can make things that look like neurons. You can make liver cells, fat cells, of course I don't want any fat cells."

If the mouse research can be recreated with human skin cells, those healthy, specialized cells could repair the damage of Alzheimer's or Autism.

"My lab is a neurobiology lab, so we're focused on those kinds of outcomes, but many other labs are working on diabetes and heart disease," said Baldwin.

Reprogrammed cells can also make models of human disease.

"My guess is this will lead to a great boon in drug discovery research, that we should see outcomes from in the next three to five years," said Baldwin.

This new experiment also avoids cloning, but animal rights groups oppose the use of mice in this lab work.  The experiments could draw new ethical protests from other critics.