Nanog – eternal youth protein

Adult cells of the human body can be so reprogrammed to become embryonic stem cells - Scottish researchers have shown.

Embryonic stem cells can change into any cell in the human body. It is for this reason that they cause high hopes. Scientist say that in future stem cells will be able to repair all defects of the human body, cure even the most severe diseases: diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. But where can these miraculous cells be obtained? Up until now, the main source were human embryos. However, during cell collection the embryos die, this being the reason why many scientist consider this method unacceptable.

A team of scientists lead by Austin Smith of Edinburgh University stated that destroying embryos will no longer be necessary – stem cells will be produced from adult human cells. In order to do so, a specific protein called Nanog will be used, which is responsible for their everlasting youth. The strange name is derived from Celtic mythology, Tir Na Nog – a land where eternally young people lived.

Scientist have created embryonic stem cells with a higher activity of the Nanog coding gene. They mixed those cells with already differentiated adult cells. In this case, those were neural stem cells, between embryonic stem cells and neurons.

For some time scientists have known that by joining an embryonic stem cell with a regular adult cell, a hybrid that is also an embryonic stem cell might be created. This is not always the case but does occur from time to time.

It appeared that the Nanog protein caused a major rise of the number of hybrid cells created in this way and had properties of embryonic stem cells. There were 200 times more of those cells than normal. This means that the Nanog protein in some way reversed the development of those cells into a more primeval state.

“This research shows that we can get embryonic stem cells out of differentiated adult cells,” said Professor Jadwiga Jaruzelska of the Human Genetics Institute of the Polish Science Academy. “In the case of hybrids obtained or cells containing double genetic material. But in further research, scientists will try convert regular stem cells into embryonic stem cells using the Nanog protein. This would be a great accomplishment.”

“This research means that stem cell therapy will not be a standard medical procedure for the short term”, Jaruzelska added, “I’m afraid that we have a long road ahead of us, partially because this research has been carried out on mouse cells and positive results in animals does not always appear in humans.”

Genes to examine
The Nanog is the main protein responsible for stem cells properties, but not the only one. Last week, ‘Nature’ published a paper by Princeton University with a list of 70 important genes for stem cells. These genes are active in embryonic stem cells and seize activity when cells differentiate. One of them is the Nanog gene. It is possible that after further research scientists will be able to develop a mix of proteins that will transform regular cells into embryonic stem cells.