By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Stem cells have the power to become any other cell in the body, which is why scientists can use them to pull off medical miracles like regrowing limbs from scratch. Normally, these are only found by taking them from embryos (unborn humans) that don’t even have a birthday yet! Now, however, researchers have created them from the skin of older human males. This mega breakthrough can lead to human cloning and life-saving medical therapies.
Every human starts off as one cell with a single copy of DNA – the set of instructions that determine how an organism grows. As that cell divides and replicates, the DNA inside each one is not very specific. That means the tiny units are all stem cells that have the power to become any cell in the body, like a blood cell, hair cell, or skin cell. However, as a developing embryo grows and becomes more complex, the DNA becomes more specific. This means the cells specialize, and soon only give rise to certain types of cells.
In the past, researchers extracted stem cells from developing babies, but with this new technique, there’s no need to anymore. In order to develop this historic method, researchers extracted DNA from a skin cell, emptied out human eggs that were donated, and then successfully injected the material into the empty shells. This step basically reprogrammed the DNA to turn off all the specific instructions, giving them a blank slate like embryonic stem cells. Then, with a small electric zap, scientists made the cells start dividing and multiplying.
Since stem cells can divide indefinitely and become any cell they want, researchers are a step closer to treating patients by cloning their own healthy cells… and maybe even cloning humans from scratch. Imagine making an identical twin from your own skin cells!
Featured image courtesy of Arthritis Research UK on Flickr. Image of stem cell diagram courtesy of OpenStax College on Wikipedia.