Washington, April 19 : A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that it is possible to reprogram fully mature, differentiated B cells to an embryonic-stem-cell-like state, without the use of an egg.
Published in the journal Cell, the study saw scientists reprogramming fully differentiated mouse cells to embryonic-stem-cell-like induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells.
B cells are immune cells that can bind to specific antigens, such as proteins from bacteria, viruses or microorganisms. Unlike fibroblasts, mature B cells have a specific part of their DNA cut out as a final maturation step.
"Once that piece of DNA is cut out, it can't come back. Checking the genome give us a way to make sure the resulting IPS cells were not from immature cells," says first author of the study Jacob Hanna, a postdoctoral fellow in Whitehead Member Rudolf Jaenisch's lab where the study was carried out.
The researchers began the experiment by generating IPS cells from immature B cells, for which they relied on a process similar to the one they used to create IPS cells from fibroblast cells in their previous research.
They say that reprogrammed mature B cells may enable them to create mouse models that will aid in understanding autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes.
Jaenisch, a professor of biology, believes that scientists will eventually be able to study diseases by following a similar process with human cells.
"In principle, this will allow you to transfer a complex genetic human disease into a Petri dish, and study it. That could be the first step to analyze the disease and to define a therapy," he says.