PORTLAND -- Researchers at Oregon Heatlh & Science University announced Monday they had successfully converted skin cells into embryonic stem cells, capable of replacing cells damaged by illness or injury.

The cells are capable of turning into any type of cell in the body, like nerve, liver and heart cells.

The breakthrough marks the first time human stem cells have been produced via nuclear transfer and follows several unsuccessful attempts by research groups worldwide, said Jim Newman of OHSU.

Researchers used a variation of an approach called somatic cell nuclear transfer. During the process, scientists transplant a cell's nucleus into an egg cell devoid of any genetic material.

The unfertilized egg develops and eventually produces stem cells.

While the method is much like cloning, scientists don't believe their research could be used for human cloning. Their hope is that the stem cell therapy might someday be able to treat diseases.

Diseases or conditions that might be treated through stem cell therapy include Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, cardiac disease and spinal cord injuries, Newman said.

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