Dec. 28 - Chinese scientists from the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health have converted cells found in urine into pluripotent stem cells that can be used to create neurons and brain cells. The researchers say the find holds huge potential for the rapid testing and development of new treatments for neuro-degenerative disorders. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: Chinese scientists say they have created stem cells from an unlikely source - urine. Stem cell biologist Pei Duanqing and his team have been attempting to convert kidney cells which are found in urine into stem cells for more than a year. And while they had some success, the method they have used up until now, which used a retrovirus to reprogram the cells, led to stem cells that were at high risk of forming tumours. But now the researchers say they have made a breakthrough. Instead of using a retrovirus, the team used vectors - a type of DNA molecule useful in transporting genetic information - and they say the results have been promising. Pei says that having the ability to generate stable pluripotent stem cells from urine could put an end to the controversy associated with embryonic stem cell research, as well as provide researchers with an abundant supply of stem cells to work with. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PEI DUANQING, PRESIDENT AND GENERAL DIRECTOR OF GUANGZHOU INSTITUTES OF BIOMEDICINE AND HEALTH, CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, SAYING: "It's an unlimited sources of cells. It's non-invasive, and the whole procedure is more pleasant than having to take skin biopsies or pluck needles into people." Using the new method, the stem cells formed in a culture in only 12 days, about half the time the process normally takes. And soon afterwards the stem cells began forming into neural cells. Pei and his team then injected these newly formed neural cells into the brains of newborn rats. He says that so far the cells have survived and show no signs of mutations or tumour formation. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PEI DUANQING, PRESIDENT AND GENERAL DIRECTOR OF GUANGZHOU INSTITUTES OF BIOMEDICINE AND HEALTH, CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, SAYING: "We'll have to put those cells into animal models with spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. And we have to show that the cells we have can correct the defects, either in a spinal cord or in a brain function. So that's the next step." Pei and his team plan to continue tweaking their method of generating stem cells from urine. He hopes that one day soon they will have a powerful weapon in the fight against degenerative diseases.