Every individual has a unique genetic code, which is a complete instruction manual describing exactly how all the cells in the body are formed. This instruction manual is stored in the form of a specific DNA sequence in the cell nucleus.
All human cells — brain, muscle, fat, bone and skin cells — have the exact same code. The thing that distinguishes the cells is which chapter of the manual the cells are able to read.
The research group in University in Sweden with the help of a retrovirus introduced different combinations of over 60 genes into the skin cells’ genome, until one day they had successfully converted the skin cells into red blood cells.
The discovery is significant from several aspects. Partly from a biological point of view — understanding how red blood cells are produced and which genetic instructions they require — but also from a therapeutic point of view, as it creates an opportunity to produce red blood cells from the skin cells of a patient.
Red blood cells are the most common cells in the human body, and are necessary in order to transport oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Millions of people worldwide suffer from anemia — a condition in which the patient has an insufficient amount of red blood cells.