Scientists trick cells into changing roles

New York: Suppose you could repair tissue damaged by a heart attack by magically turning other cells into heart muscle, so the organ could pump effectively again.

Scientists aren`t quite ready to do that. But they are reporting early success at transforming one kind of specialized cell directly into another kind, a feat of biological alchemy that doctors may one day perform inside a patient`s body.

"Everyone believes this is the future of so-called stem-cell biology," says John Gearhart of the University of Pennsylvania, one of many researchers pursuing this approach.

The concept is two steps beyond the familiar story of embryonic stem cells, versatile entities that can be coaxed to become cells of all types.

Scientists are learning to guide those transformations, which someday may provide transplant tissue for treating diseases like Parkinson`s or diabetes.

It`s still experimental. But at its root, the novel technique is really just harnessing and speeding up what happens in nature: a versatile but immature cell matures into a more specialized one.

Bureau Report