Doctors in Canada and Scotland report that they've found a new way to use skin cells to create stem cells that seem to have the same potential as embryonic stem cells—namely, the ability to become nearly any tissue in the body. It's a promising breakthrough both scientifically and ethically: Using skin cells as the starting point bypasses the moral debate surrounding the creation and destruction of embryos.
The research, led by Dr. Andras Nagy of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, builds on earlier studies by Japanese and U.S. scientists. They showed it was possible to create stem cells from skin cells (pictured here), but to get the reprogramming genes into the skin cells, they had to inject viruses that would deliver the genes. Using viruses led to problems like an increased risk of cancer and damaged DNA. The new method eliminates the use of viruses (using a "jumping gene" instead), making it safer and causing no damage to healthy cells. —Heather Wax