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China - Stem cells

Chinese researchers announce stem cell breakthrough

Article published on the 2009-06-03 Latest update 2009-06-03 09:55 TU

Computer-generated image of a stem cell(Photo: Institut français d'Athènes)

Computer-generated image of a stem cell
(Photo: Institut français d'Athènes)

Scientists in China say they have created 'pluripotent' stem cells from pigs. It is considered a major step towards using the pig as a test bench for disease and eventually using pigs organs in human transplant operations.

The team of doctors, led by Lei Xao of the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, announced their results in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology.

They took cells from pigs' ears and from pig bone-marrow and reprogrammed them to convert them into the so-called pluripotent stem cells. These, like stem cells in embryos can adapt to become any type of cell in the body.

Moreover, researchers hope to use their discovery to modify pig organs - some of which are similar to human organs - so that the human body can accept them.

The pluripotent stem cells could be used, the scientists say, to modify certain genes in the pig which are related to its immune system. The modifications would make the organs compatible with the human immune system.

This breakthrough also allows researchers to "create" human diseases in pigs. By altering the genes in pig stem cells, the scientists can replicate genetic flaws that cause human illnesses like diabetes.

Researchers could then test, on pigs, new therapies for these human diseases.