A compound that can turn adult cells into stem cells has been identified, promising new sources of cells for medicine and the possibility of lizard-like body part regeneration.

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California identified the compound, reversine, which can induce a cell to undergo reverse differentiation?to move backwards from its current state into its own precursor cell.

Reversine represents a potentially useful tool for generating an unlimited supply of precursor cells that can be converted into other cell types such as bone or cartilage.

'This has the potential to make stem cell research more practical,' says researcher Sheng Ding. 'This will allow you to derive stem-like cells from your own mature cells, avoiding the technical and ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells.'

Cellular snags

Stem cells have huge potential in medicine because of their ability to differentiate into many different cell types.

They would be most effective if you could use your own cells, as this would avoid potential complications from immune rejection.

Embryonic stem cells offer an alternative, but there are practical and ethical hurdles associated with their use.

Another approach is to use a patient's own specialized cells and dedifferentiate them.

Regular cellular differentiation is the process by which a cell acquires a type, developing along a pathway of increasing specialization.

Dedifferentiation takes cells back to a stage before they are specialized, at which they can be used to regenerate multiple tissue types.

This is where reversine comes into play.

Amphibian mimicry

Ding and colleagues are researching ways for humans to regenerate body parts like amphibians.

They hope to find ways of mimicking this natural regeneration by finding chemicals for efficient dedifferentiation.

Reversine is involved in one of the first steps in this process, and the researchers have used it to revert muscle cells to an earlier stage.

They are still working on understanding the exact biochemical mechanism through which reversine causes muscle cells to dedifferentiate into their progenitors, however, as well as working to improve the efficiency of the process.

'This may ultimately facilitate development of small molecule therapeutics for stimulating the body's own regeneration,' says Ding. 'They are the future regenerative medicine.'

The study is reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.