Dr. Leonard Zon Discusses Direct Conversion of Mouse Skin Cells to Heart Cells on NPR

A more direct method of reprogramming stem cells may be possible. Researchers at University of California, San Diego and The Scripps Research Insitute published a paper in Nature Cell Biology (published online 1/30/11, not yet in print) highlighting their ability to convert mouse skin cells directly to heart cells, passing over the induced pluripotent stem cell stage, previously thought to be necessary.

Dr. Leonard Zon, director of the Stem Cell Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, talked with host Ira Flatow on NPR’s Science Friday on February 4, 2011 to explain these findings and their possible implications for heart disease research. Dr. Zon and Flatow discussed the advantages and disadvantages of skipping the pluripotent stage (pro: the cell follows a more direct path rather than back to an embryonic-like state and then onto its final destination; con: genes must be put in the cell for this direct route to work, and this could result in cancer-causing mutations.) They also discussed the possibility of building an entire heart in this way, which Dr. Zon said is probably possible, although bioengineering would likely be necessary for building valves and other components.

(Please note that Dr. Zon was not involved in the paper being discussed; he was invited to comment on the research as an expert in the field.) The archived broadcast is available for listening here.

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Further reading and listening

Dr. Zon has several previous appearances on Science Friday:

  • February 29, 2008: Dr. Zon and Children’s colleague Dr. Richard White discussed their see-through zebrafish, dubbed “Casper”, an advance that allows a better look inside living organisms. Casper is particularly useful in melanoma research as the transparent skin allows easy tracking of tumors.
  • February 17, 2006: In this broadcast from the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Dr. Zon and others discussed the scientific, policy, and ethical issues in the field of stem cell research.

Dr. George Daley, director of the Stem Cell Transplantation Program at Children’s, has also appeared on the show:

  • May 21, 2010: Dr. Daley and several other guests discussed the current state of stem cell research policy, particularly federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
  • February 22, 2008: Dr. Daley discussed the discovery of a protein, Lin-28, that might account for some of the multi-functional abilities of stem cells.
  • April 27, 2007: In this broadcast from the Cambridge Science Festival, Dr. Daley and others discussed the current state of embryonic and adult stem cell research.



  • iPS cells and disease

    In August 2008, Children’s Hospital Boston reported creating iPS cell lines from patients with 10 different diseases, the start of a growing repository of iPS cells that’s available to scientists throughout the world. Specific conditions being studied with iPS cells include:

    Read more.

  • Meet Leonard Zon, MD

    Leonard Zon, Director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Stem Cell Program, is internationally recognized for his pioneering work in the fields of stem cell biology and cancer genetics. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator, he is founder and former President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research and Chair of the Executive Committee of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI).
    Read an interview with Zon in the HHMI Bulletin.

  • On NPR

    Leonard Zon, MD reflects on a decade of stem cell research. Read More.