Skin cells have been induced to turn into white blood cells without reversing them all the way back into stem cells and then making the change. REUTERS

In a simple two-step method, skin cells have been directly transformed into white blood cells that form the front line of the body's immune system.

Only two biological molecules were employed in inducing this memory loss into the skin cells and directing them into their new fate, said the researchers at the Salk Institute.

The work is published in the journal Stem Cells.

It is possible to "rewind" skin cells just enough to instruct them to form the more than 200 cell types that constitute the human body, they added.

Where the molecule SOX2 causes the cell to lose its "memory" of being a specific cell type, a genetic factor miRNA125b re-directs them into becoming white blood cells. The method does not require reversing the cell into a stem cell and then reprogramming it.

Usually it takes at least two months to produce, characterise and differentiate various cell types from the pluripotent stem cells (these have capacity to develop into a range of cell types). Even after this, problems like how to place them in organs and prevent tumour formation are many.

The present finding could lead to therapies introducing fresh white blood cells into the body under the onslaught of diseases.

Stem Cells Rebooted

Elsewhere, British and Japanese scientists have rebooted pluripotent stem cells and taken them back to the stage in a seven-to-ten-day old embryo, reports Reuters.

They hope to study embryo development by looking at the reset cells.

Till now, pluripotent stem cells have been harvested from embryos or adult cells reprogrammed but they have never been obtained at the stage before they start developing into a certain kind of cell.

The work is published in the journal Cell.

Stem cell science helps regenerate tissues and treat many diseases that have no cures.