Darstellung DNS Doppelhelix in silber gelber Färbung vor schwarzem Hintergrund.

And they transform…

Until a few years ago, the mat­ter see­med to be a clear case: once a per­son is born, the­re is no tur­ning back for the orga­nism. Whe­ther skin or hair, fat or blood – it was belie­ved that no spe­cia­li­zed cell in the body can ever beco­me any­thing else than it is.

But this dog­ma has fal­len. Initi­al stu­dies have shown that matu­re body cells can be trans­for­med into all-roun­ders simi­lar to embryo­nic stem cells. Like them, the repro­grammed cells have an intri­guing abili­ty cal­led plu­ri­po­ten­cy: they are able to make any of the body’s more than 200 cell types. It is hoped that this will make it pos­si­ble for the first time to tre­at pre­vious­ly incura­ble dise­a­ses such as Parkinson’s or dia­be­tes using the patient’s own healt­hy repla­ce­ment cells.

It is still unclear how plu­ri­po­ten­cy ari­ses in detail. Howe­ver, Hans Schö­ler and his team have come a good deal clo­ser to fin­ding the ans­wer to this ques­ti­on. The rese­ar­chers were able to show that a gene cal­led Oct4 plays a key role. Nor­mal­ly it is only acti­ve in two types of cells that are com­ple­te­ly imma­tu­re: embryo­nic stem cells and egg and sperm cells. In all matu­re cells, on the other hand, it lies in a kind of slum­ber. If you want to turn them into plu­ri­po­tent cells, Oct4 has to be spe­ci­fi­cal­ly awa­ken­ed from them.

Seve­ral methods are alre­a­dy available for this today. So far, howe­ver, none of them is opti­mal. The aim of the MPI rese­arch team is the­r­e­fo­re to deve­lop methods with which the repro­gramming is not only more tar­ge­ted, but also as gent­le as possible.



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