Skin cells as stem cells - medicine's next big thing

FRESNO, Calif.

A science lab is taking stem cell technology another step into the future.

From broken hearts.

"One artery was completely blocked," Elmer Goodman, a heart disease patient, told Action News.

To severed spines.

"It was just like somebody took a tarp from the bottom of my neck and just peeled it back and took all the feeling from me," John Miksa, who is paralyzed, said.

To damaged brains.

"I was going to be drooling on a bib, in a wheelchair for the rest of my life," Erwin Velbis, a stroke survivor, said.

The answer to heal them all may be found inside a lab.

"We had a major breakthrough," Deepak Srivastava, M.D., from the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, said.

Doctor Deepak Srivastava and doctor Sheng Ding are two of the many minds at Gladstone Institute using not adult stem cells or embryonic stem cells, but your own skin cells to repair bodies from the inside out.

"It means in the future one might be able to create new heart cells, new lung cells, new spinal cord cells, starting with your own cells from your skin," Dr. Srivastava said.

Doctor Srivastava is taking adult skin cells, and turning them into beating heart cells. It's called direct reprogramming.

"We've been able to create a beating heart cells that used to be on someone's skin, which is really like science fiction," Dr. Srivastava said.

The same approach could be used to repair spinal cord injuries and practically any other part of the body.

"We've been working on new methods that can convert cells from the skin to brain cells," Sheng Ding, Ph.D., at the Gladstone institute, said.

Doctor Ding has transformed the adult skin cells into neurons that are capable of transmitting brain signals. They hope this could reverse the effects of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke.

"It's the ultimate in personalized medicine," Dr. Srivastava said.

Doctors say because they're using a patient's own skin cells, there's little to no chance of rejection. These skin cells could also be used to test new drugs and each patient's possible response to those drugs. Allowing doctors to better personalize medicine.

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