Scientists convert skin cells into placenta-generating cells (Update)

placenta
Fetus in utero, between fifth and sixth months. Image credit: Wikipedia.

Regenerative medicine is a new and expanding area that aims to replace lost or damaged cells, tissues or organs in the human body through cellular transplantation. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are pluripotent cells that are capable of long-term growth, self-renewal, and can give rise to every cell, tissue and organ in the fetus's body. Thus, ESCs hold great promise for cell therapy as a source of diverse differentiated cell-types. Two major bottlenecks to realizing such potential are allogenic immune rejection of ESC-derived cells by recipients and ethical issues.

Two Japanese scientists, Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka and Kazutoshi Takahashi, showed, in 2006, that introduction of four genes in skin cells can reprogram fibroblasts into functional embryonic stem-like cells (also termed "induced " ("iPSCs"). The notion that as little as four genes are sufficient to reset the epigenome of a cell, opened a new avenue where scientists have attempted to convert different adult cells into other somatic cell types. Several subsets of cell types such as , nerve cells, heart cells and liver cells were converted from different adult cells by employing the direct conversion approach.

This discovery opened an attractive avenue that resolves both the ethical issue and the immune rejection problem of ESCs and the need for donor cells.

The placenta is the least understood human organ, but arguably one of the most important ones. It influences not only the health of a woman and her fetus during pregnancy, but also her lifelong health.

Placental insufficiency occurs when the placenta does not develop properly, or is damaged. Placental dysfunction diseases are associated with low birth weight, premature birth, and birth defects. One such disease is fetal growth restriction (FGR, also termed intrauterine growth restriction [IUGR]), that tends to display mild mental retardation and in severe cases causes fetal death. They also carry increased risk of complications for the mother. To date, tools to model or treat these diseases are limited because all attempts to isolate and propagate the human placenta precursor cells (i.e. trophoblast stem cells, cells that can form the placental cells) in the dish have failed.

Now, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, led by Dr. Yosef Buganim of the School of Medicine-IMRIC-Developmental Biology and Cancer Research, have succeeded in converting into stable and fully functional induced trophoblast stem cells (iTSCs, the of the placenta that responsible for the formation of most cells in the placenta). These skin-derived TSCs look like native TSCs, and function and contribute to developing placenta.

The success of this study will grant a real chance for women who suffer from placental dysfunction diseases to have healthy babies. It is important to note that these cells do not hold any risk since they integrate only into the placenta and not to the embryo itself.


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Oct 12, 2015
It's only a matter of time before they learn how to grow a fully developed human from a single cloned cell, like on the movie "The Sixth Day".

Beware:

If everyone was an Einstein, there wouldn't be a Lorentz or a Minkowski to do the math for him.

If everyone is Britney Spears there wouldn't be backup singers and dancers.

Creating humans from scratch may have potenital in colonizing distant planets, but the ethical problems it can create are far reaching, moreover we humans have already experienced several large genetic bottlenecks in the past due both to global catastrophes and genocide and other killings...we don't know how many unique individuals are needed to sustain a healthy, stable gene pool in a colony population. I have said 1,000 selected from all races. Some others have said 10,000.

You intend in the short to medium term to use this for medical research and potentially some form of prosthesis, but we all know this is headed towards designer humans.

Oct 12, 2015
While I am happy for the success of this research for women's health, I am concerned that it can lead to unethical uses of the technology (as opposed to unethical sources of donor cells).

If you can turn skin cells into nerve cells, placenta, blood vessels, etc...

What is to prevent you from growing a "Human Neurons" neural net in a dish or tank, from human stem cells...and then using that neural net to power a computer or robot?

Something similar is already being done in experiments with samples of mouse brains and robotic pathfinding, etc, and the tissue from the mouse brains LEARNS how to use the sensory information from the robotic body, until it eventually dies.

With some modification to provide nutrients and oxygen, this technology could be modified to create a human brain interfaced with robotics...literally like the science fiction notion of a "Brain Trust" or "Mother Brain" type being.

What laws exist to prevent this? It's nuts.

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