Washington, August 1 (ANI): Scientists have developed a model that is capable of making predictions from which differentiated cells - for instance skin cells - can be changed into completely different cell types - like nerve cells.
This can be done entirely without stem cells. These computer-based instructions for reprogramming cells are of huge significance for regenerative medicine.
All cells of an organism originate from embryonic stem cells, which divide and increasingly differentiate as they do so. The ensuing tissue cells remain in a stable state; a skin cell does not spontaneously change into a nerve cell or heart muscle cell.
The applications could be of enormous benefit: When nerve tissue becomes diseased, for example, then doctors could take healthy cells from the patient's own skin. They could then reprogram these to develop into nerve cells. These healthy nerve cells would then be implanted into the diseased tissue or even replace it entirely. This would treat, and ideally heal, diseases such as Parkinson's disease.
The techniques for cell programming are still in their infancy.
The LCSB researchers have replaced trial and error with computer calculations, as computer scientist and PhD student at LCSB Isaac Crespo said that their theoretical model first queries databases where vast amounts of information on gene actions and their effects are stored and then identifies the genes that maintain the stability of differentiated cells.
He said that working from the appropriate records, the model suggests which genes in the starting cells need to be switched on and off again, and when, in order to change them into a different cell type.
Professor Antonio del Sol, head of the Computational Biology group at LCSB, said that their predictions have proved very accurate in the lab.
Del sol asserted that it makes no difference at all how similar the cells are. The models work equally well for cell lines that have only just branched off from one another as for those that are already very far apart.
Prof. del Sol's and Crespo's model thus allows highly variable jumping between very different cell types without taking a detour via stem cells.
The biologists and medical scientists still have their lab work cut out for them: They have to identify all the growth factors that initiate the respective genetic activities in the correct, predicted order.
The study has been published in the scientific journal Stem Cells. (ANI)