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How Freckles Yield Stem Cells

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 23 Mar 2010 | comments*Discuss
Freckles Stem Cells Benefit Researchers

Freckles for most of us probably just seem like little bits of pigment on our skin that we either don't care about or vainly want to remove. New research, however, shows that your freckles might be far more than an aesthetic part of your body.

One study found that those cells in your body capable of producing pigment – along with your fat cells – could be programmed to become stem cells. Not only that, but these cells can be reprogrammed far faster and with more efficiency than those cells typically used such as skin cells.

Troubles With Skin Cells

While research on reprogramming skin cells remains important, it has suffered from a number of setbacks. The process is a very inefficient one. In fact, it can take in excess of a month for simply one out of ten thousand skin cells to be effectively reprogrammed into a pluripotent stem cell. These pluripotent stem cells can develop into the many types of cells in the body.

With skin cells being so challenging to reprogram, it is no wonder that researchers have been looking around the human body to find a better cell to reprogram into a stem cell. Some attempts have even worked too. Blood cells along with hair and neural cells have shown promise. Bone marrow cells have even shown some success in studies but they have all still been largely inefficient just like skin cells. While we can use the cells, getting viable stem cells is just too difficult, costly and time-consuming.

Using Freckles and Fat Cells

Researchers today have been able to create pluripotent stem cells from pigment-producing cells in the human body – those same cells responsible for freckles. One group of researchers was able to reprogram melanocytes, cells that produce pigment in the skin. Fat cells were also shown to yield pluripotent stem cells.

The main benefit was that the reprogramming process was significantly more efficient than the process for reprogramming skin cells to pluripotent stem cells. Another bonus here is that it is not only one research group that has shown success but two teams. This means it is more likely that other groups could replicate the results, thereby helping us to obtain stem cells.

Difficulties in Research

Probably one of the biggest problems, however, is that skin cells are far more attainable for researchers to use in a study. There are enormous cell 'banks' available for accessing skin cells or bone marrow cells for the purposes of research. Accessing pigment-producing cells or fat cells is not quite as easy.

Stem Cell Therapies

Translating this new finding into a viable stem cell therapy is still years away. It is a surprising twist of sorts that as obesity continues to rise, fat cells are now a way to provide the potential to treat disease once they are reprogrammed into stem cells. The aesthetic aspect of freckles may soon become history as we use these important cells to create pluripotent stem cells to enhance human health and lives. Hopefully, we will see both of these types of cells helping us in the future.

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