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Cancer Breakthrough in New Blood Cell Source?

In a neat bit of cellular wizardry, human skin cells have been turned into blood cells.

The research could have huge implications for blood-related diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma, and could also eventually lead to new treatments for other types of tissues inside the human body.

"There is an incredible need clinically to generate red blood cells," said Mick Bhatia, a scientist at McMaster University in Canada and co-author of the study in the journal Nature. "But I think it will also expand the idea that skin cells could be directly turned into other cell types."

The experiment was straightforward: The Canadian scientists first harvested skin cells from several human volunteers. The researchers then exposed those cells to a virus. The virus injected a gene, known as OCT4, into the skin cells. OCT4 encodes a protein that acts as a kind of switchboard to activate other genes in order to make different kinds of cells.

Bathed in a solution filled with cytokines, molecules that stimulate the immune system, the skin cells then transformed into blood cells.

By itself this accomplishment is impressive. What makes it even more important is that the new blood cells persisted; they never reverted into an embryonic-like state, as has been the case with other research.

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