With the introduction of just four factors, researchers have successfully induced differentiated cells taken from mouse embryos or adult mice to behave like embryonic stem cells. The researchers reported their findings in an immediate early publication of the journal Cell, published by Cell Press.

The cells–which the researchers designate “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPS)–exhibit the physical, growth, and genetic characteristics typical of embryonic stem cells, they reported. “Pluripotent” refers to the ability to differentiate into most other cell types.

“Human embryonic stem cells might be used to treat a host of diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and diabetes,” said Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan. “However, there are ethical difficulties regarding the use of human embryos, as well as the problem of tissue rejection following transplantation into patients.”

Those problems could be circumvented if pluripotent cells could be obtained directly from the patients’ own cells.

“We have demonstrated that pluripotent stem cells can be directly generated from fibroblast cultures by the addition of only a few defined factors,” Yamanaka said. Fibroblasts make up structural fibers found in connective tissue.

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