Transforming Cells

” … [S]cientists found over the past two years that they could do what they call ‘transdifferentiation.’ They are now taking cells, like nerve cells, and turning them into other types of cells, like muscle cells.
   In theory, of course, it should be possible. All cells in the body have the same genes — what makes a nerve cell different from a muscle cell is that some genes are silenced in a nerve cell and others are silenced in a muscle cell. Only specific subsets of a cell’s genes are used.
   But it is one thing to know this in theory. It is quite another to turn one cell type into another.
   Yet now, three groups of researchers have done it. One group turned connective tissue into nerve, another turned connective tissue into heart muscles, and a third turned exocrine cells of the pancreas, which secrete digestive enzymes, into the very different endocrine cells of the pancreas, which make hormones like insulin. The value of being able to transform one type of cell into another, Dr. [Richard] Klausner said, is that now scientists have ‘a totally novel source’ of cells that they can convert.”

See article at: NYT 09Nov10: “Glimpsing the Future As Fields Heat Up”