Scientists have discovered a safer way to turn adult cells into stem cells, the Boston Globe reports. The cells, similar to those harvested from embryos, are called induced pluripotent stem, or iPS, cells; Japanese researchers introduced the method 2 years ago. But the Japanese used retroviruses, which can cause cancer; the new research uses a different virus, which is safe.
For this new development, Harvard scientists turned to a virus previously used in gene therapy on mice. IPS cells are interesting to researchers because their creation sidesteps thorny moral issues surrounding embryonic stem cells. But even a study author was cautious about the discovery’s importance. Though safe iPS cells can be made, their potency has not been evaluated vis a vis the embryonic variety.