Researchers have created embryo stem cells from skin cells, without the need for sperm and eggs

An image of early embryo cells to illustrate the idea of creating embryo stem cells from skin cells
© iStock-luismmolina

A study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has shown that it is possible to create embryo stem cells from skin cells, without using sperm or eggs.

Embryo stem cells can be created using reprogrammed skin cells, rather than using sperm and eggs in mice. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem say: “this discovery also has vast implications for modelling embryonic defects and shedding light on placental dysfunctions, as well as solving certain infertility problems by creating human embryos in a petri dish.”

The context

In 2006, Japanese researchers discovered that reprogrammed skin cells, which are called “Induced Plutipotent Stem Cells” (iPSCs), are similar to early embryo cells. These cells can develop into all foetal cell types except extra-embryonic tissues, such as the placenta.

The new Hebrew University of Jerusalem research found a new combination of five genes which can be inserted into skin cells and reprogram them into three types of early embryonic cell types:

•Fetuses;
•Placental stem cells; and
•Stem cells that develop into other extra-embryonic tissues, such as the umbilical cord.

Skin cells transformed into early embryo stem cells

According to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the team has “discovered a set of genes capable of transforming murine skin cells into all three of the cell types that comprise the early embryo: the embryo itself, the placenta and the extraembryonic tissues, such as the umbilical cord.”

This study is the first ever attempt to create all three main cell lineages at once from skin cells.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, adds: “In the future, it may be possible to create entire human embryos out of human skin cells, without the need for sperm or eggs. This discovery also has vast implications for modelling embryonic defects and shedding light on placental dysfunctions, as well as solving certain infertility problems by creating human embryos in a petri dish.”

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