Scientists transform skin cell to beating heart cell

Researchers at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, CA., have converted skin cells to beating heart cells, and they achieved this without having the cells go through the stem-cell stage. Ordinarily, researchers work hard to reprogram adult cells into an embryonic, or pluripotent, stage. From there, they are able to transform into any of the body's different cell types. But the process of transforming an adult cell into what's known as an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) is very long and cumbersome. It involves weeks of work and the insertion of four genes.

So, the Scripps team decided to introduce the four genes, but rather than going through the several-week process of reducing them to iPS cells, they instead gave a signal to the cells to transform into heart cells. And it worked. "In 11 days, we went from skin cells to beating heart cells in a dish," researcher Seng Ding said in a news release. "It was phenomenal to see."

Ding compares it to launching a rocket, but rather than first landing on the moon, going immediately to other planets. "This is a totally new paradigm," he said. The next step, Ding said, is to figure out a way to bypass even the addition of those four genes. If anybody could figure that one out, it would be Ding. Back in April 2009, it was Ding and colleagues who first demonstrated that generation of iPS cells is possible without genetic alternation.

- read the release