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1st embryonic stem cells made from adult skin

WASHINGTON--For the first time, U.S. researchers have cloned embryonic stem cells from adult cells, a breakthrough on the path toward helping doctors treat a host of diseases.

The embryonic stem cells — which were created by fusing an adult skin cell with an egg cell that had been stripped of genetic material — were genetically identical to the donors.

The hope is that cloned embryonic stem cells, which are capable of transforming into any other type of cell in the body, could be used in patient-specific regenerative therapy to repair or replace an individual's organs damaged by diseases including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease.

The team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of the Massachusetts-based company Advanced Cell Technology, used a technique that had succeeded last year with infant skin cells.

But Lanza's team, funded in part by the South Korean government, used cells from a 35-year-old man and a 75-year-old man.

This is a significant step forward, the researchers wrote in the study published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

“For many cell types, reprogramming is more difficult for adult cells than for fetal/infant cells, presumably at least in part because (they are) ... further removed from the pluripotent state” in which the cells can develop into different types, the study said.

Yet adults are more likely than infants to need regenerative therapy, the authors wrote, noting that “the incidence of many diseases that could be treated with pluripotent cell derivatives increases with age.”

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