The human body has about 200 different cell types, all originated from a single cell, the #zygote. The zygote is a #pluripotent cell, a cell that has the ability to generate all the cell types in the organism. But how do these 200 cell types, which share the same genetic heritage - DNA - end up being so different? This differentiation is the result of its "history" and its microenvironment. As the zygote divides, the cells are exposed to different stimuli. These stimuli will be part of the cellular "history", which in turn will induce the expression or repression of certain genes, or in other words, the specific production of certain proteins. Thus, although all our cells have the same gene library - of ~ 20,000 #genes - only a fraction of them are used and the result of this differential gene usage is what creates, at the end of the day, the cell diversity. The way that the genes are used - activated and repressed- is called epigenetics.
It was long thought that this path was irreversible. However, several studies have shown that this process can be reversed, the fate of the cells can be changed. One of the most striking works in this field was the one done by Yamanaka and his colleagues in which they showed that it was possible to take differentiated cells - fibroblasts in this case - and to induce the formation of pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) and most amazingly, only 4 factors are needed! These cells, being pluripotent, have the capacity to differentiate again and, as mentioned before, this reprogramming will depend on the environmental conditions and specific factors, therefore, we could induce the cell differentiation at our convenience.
This is a powerful technology that allows the generation of hundreds of cells from a single donor. Its value is undeniable for the treatment of degenerative diseases, development of new drugs and even for personalized medicine. The first clinical trials have been developing for some years, and if all goes well, perhaps some incurable diseases, may have a treatment soon.
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