Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.


Immortality, One Cell at a Time

Can a chemical cocktail turn any old adult cell into a stem cell?

By JR MinkelOctober 11, 2006 5:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Tokyo University geneticist Shinya Yamanaka recently hit on a way to convert any normal adult cell into an immortal stem cell, capable of both living forever and morphing into any type of organ or tissue needing replacement in a sick or aging body.

One of the biggest hurdles in stem cell research has been getting them. So far, scientists' only options are harvesting new stem cells from human embryos or cloning those already harvested, but both procedures are fraught with ethical and regulatory red tape. Yamanaka knew of another way. In mice, when adult cells are forced to fuse with stem cells, occasionally one of the adult cells reprograms itself, regressing back to an undifferentiated state.

By studying the chemical signals released by cells as they undergo this transformation, Yamanaka has managed to concoct a cocktail of four chemicals that can provoke the same conversion. Granted, the technique is not perfect—it works in only a small percentage of attempts and hasn't yet been shown to be effective in human cells. Still, "it's very solid, very convincing and exciting work—it's a really important first step," says Princeton University geneticist Ihor Lemischka.

Yamanaka's technique may enable doctors to grow stem cells from adult cells of patients needing treatment. Researchers already envision transplanting ready-made embryonic stem cells back into people, providing cures for a huge range of diseases, from diabetes to paralysis to Alzheimer's. No embryos or ethics committees needed.

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In