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For the first time, human skin cells can be directly transformed into cells of a placenta

A research team led by Prof. Yossi Buganim from the School of Medicine of the Hebrew University succeeded in reprogramming human skin cells into functional placental cells so that there is no need to extract stem cells from embryos

A research team led by Prof. Yossi Boganim from the School of Medicine of the Hebrew University succeeded in reprogramming human skin cells into functioning placental cells. The research and its results open new avenues when it comes to understanding the causes of infertility, complications during pregnancy and long-term health consequences for both mothers and babies and it was published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

Prof. Boganim from the Hebrew University and his team used special proteins that they developed and together with the existing technology for cell reprogramming, succeeded in causing skin cells that are found in relatively high frequency to directly become placental stem cells. The placenta, an organ that exists only during pregnancy and in recent years its importance for many diseases such as schizophrenia has been revealed. At the same time, access to placental stem cells is limited for ethical and technical reasons.

Prof. Buganim's technological breakthrough overcomes the various difficulties in the production and creation of active placental stem cells and provides an unlimited supply of cells for the study of placental function. Also, the development makes it possible to locate the mechanisms that led to pregnancy complications in a certain fetus whose skin cells were reprogrammed and to better understand whether and how the phenomenon can be prevented in subsequent pregnancies. 

First, the team located the genes important for creating placental stem cells. These cells, also known as trophoblast stem cells (TSCs), are the cells that "monitor" the future development of an active placenta. Then, by introducing these genes into the skin cells, the researchers were able to cause the skin cells to become functional and stable placental stem cells. The placental stem cells produced in the laboratory exhibited similar properties to placental stem cells extracted from early human embryos (128 cells) and showed the ability to differentiate into different subtypes of placental cells. Comprehensive analyses, which include testing the genes and the DNA structure, showed the superiority of this method over previously published approaches.

The research was led by Dr. Moriah Naama from the laboratory of Prof. Boganim from the Hebrew University, in collaboration with Ms. Moran Rahami, and other members of the laboratory. The scientists used over-the-counter pregnancy tests to quickly assess their reprogrammed cells, as these cells produce various pregnancy hormones, including human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). The team received training from Prof. Simcha Yigal's laboratory in the Department of Women and Maternity at Hadassah and the Stem Cell Research Laboratory at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, led by Prof. Rachel Eiges, who provided critical samples from PGD embryos.

Prof. Boganim explained the importance of the research findings and said that "they hold significant promise for advancing our understanding of the development of pregnancy, infertility and pregnancy-related diseases. Beyond that, Prof. Buganim added that "the new technology we discovered has the potential to bring about a real revolution in everything related to research on placental pathologies and the genetic causes that caused them and to lead to the improvement of diagnostic tools and therapeutic interventions in a way that can save pregnancies and the lives of fetuses while still in their mother's womb."

for the academic article

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