OHSU researchers develop a novel gene and stem cell technique for treating mitochondrial disease

Stem cell colony

Stem cell colonies growing on top of feeder cells with immunochemistry staining

A study led by OHSU researchers Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D., and Hong Ma, M.D., Ph.D., at the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy and the Oregon National Primate Research Center, has revealed a critical first step in developing a new gene and stem cell regenerative technique for treating patients with mitochondrial disease.

Dr Hong Ma-headshotJPG (2)

Hong Ma

Mitochondrial diseases result from DNA mutations that lead to altered cell function. Cell injury and cell death result which can lead to multiple system failure and even death.  In the United States, up to 4,000 children are born with a type of mitochondrial disease each year. There are no treatments or cures.

Mitalipov’s and Ma’s findings, published July 15 in the journal Nature, offer a potential breakthrough in treating patients with the mtDNA variant of the disease. The paper, “Metabolic rescue in pluripotent cells from patients with mtDNA disease,” outlines a mitochondrial replacement method used to create a stem cell with healthy mitochondria from a patient’s skin cell containing mtDNA mutations. To conduct this study, the researchers first collected skin cells from patients with mtDNA mutations. They then recovered the nucleus from the skin cells and paired them with healthy donor cytoplasm, the material surrounding the cell’s nucleus that contains the mitochondrial DNA, from an egg. This resulted in an embryonic stem cell with healthy mitochondria.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov

Shoukhrat Mitalipov

Reinserting genetically correct cells into the patient to replace diseased tissue is more precise than traditional gene therapy, which involves inserting synthetic genes into patients via viruses. This nuclear transfer technique could pave the way for treating many diseases caused by DNA mutations.

Read more.

The study, “Metabolic rescue in pluripotent cells from patients with mtDNA disease,” was funded by the Leducq Foundation, Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine, OHSU and University of California, San Diego institutional funds. Work in the laboratory of J.C.I.B. was supported by the G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust (2012-PG-MED002).

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  1. Congratulations, Drs. Hong Ma and Shoukhrat Mitalipov! Your paper is indeed a breakthrough.

About the Author

Julie Rogers is Research Development Associate in the Office of Research Funding & Development Services.

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