A Disease In A Dish

Some fascinating research I'm just catching up on: a new technique to reprogram skin cells as the equivalent of embryonic stem cells. Money quote from Nature:

"Neither eggs nor embryos are necessary. I've never worked with either," says Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, who has pioneered the new technique.

Last year, Yamanaka introduced a system that uses mouse fibroblasts, a common cell type that can easily be harvested from skin, instead of eggs. Four genes, which code for four specific proteins known as transcription factors, are transferred into the cells using retroviruses. The proteins trigger the expression of other genes that lead the cells to become pluripotent, meaning that they could potentially become any of the body's cells. Yamanaka calls them induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). "It's easy. There's no trick, no magic," says Yamanaka.

This could be a very big deal, not just ethically, but scientifically.