Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Take a Big Step Towards Clinical Applications

March 04 2009 / by Bora / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Biotechnology   Year: 2009   Rating: 9 Hot

This week, researchers from Canada and Scotland made a major advancement in the field of stem cell biology. They discovered a method to successfully reprogram somatic cells into stem cells without the use of viruses.

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are a type of stem cells derived from adult somatic cells by forcing expression of genes shown to sufficiently reprogram somatic cells into stem cells. iPSCs have been shown to possess key characteristics of embryonic stem cells (ESCs), the most important of which is the ability to give rise to cells of all three germ layers. iPSCs are an ideal source of stem cells because they circumvent the need for human embryos to generate stem cells. Additionally, because they can be generated from one’s own somatic cells which are readily available, iPSCs can be used for patient-specific therapies, thereby reducing the risk of immune rejection.

The method by which iPSCs are derived currently, however, presents a major safety concern: the stem cell marker genes required to reprogram somatic cells are delivered using viral vectors. When these viral vectors are inserted in a random fashion, it can result in incidental expression of proto-oncogenes, such as Myc, leading to tumor formation. In the current studies, researchers used DNA fragments called transposons that can be inserted into the genome to deliver the reprogramming genes and subsequently removed.

While this study represents a significant step towards a wider utilization of iPSCs in clinical applications and the field of regenerative medicine in general, it remains necessary to clarify whether induced expression of reprogramming genes is a contributing factor in the increased incidents of tumor formation.

Comment Thread (18 Responses)

  1. I’d like to clear up some ignorance about geography, disappointingly common ignorance. The research was done in two places; one was in Canada, the other place was Edinburgh in the UK. For some reason the article refers to this place as “England”. If there’s anyone else who can’t see the problem with this, it’s time to learn some basic geography.

    Edinburgh is not in England, it is in Scotland. England and Scotland are both part of the United Kingdom. I’ve noticed that Americans will typically use “England” to refer to anything that happens in the UK, which they usually get away with, since England is the largest and most populous region of the UK, but this time the author did not get away with it.

    It is not complicated. Here is a summary: UK is an abbreviation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is a sovereign state which consists of the constituent countries/regions England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was agreed long ago that the word “Britain” is an acceptable shorthand for the political entity called the UK. On the other hand, ‘Great Britain’ is simply a physical geographical term, referring to the largest island, so that would include England, Scotland and Wales. The term arose because there used to be a ‘lesser Britain’ located in modern day France.

    The mistake is all the more puzzling because Edinburgh is in fact the political capital of Scotland. The devolutionary process makes Scotland all the more distinct from England, and although it seems unlikely now, it may one day be an independent country in its own right, with its own seat at the EU. I saw an interviewer once refer to Tony Blair as “the Prime Minister of England”; fortunately Blair was good enough to ignore this minimization of the state his presides over. I actually don’t think americans who use the word England do it to minimize the size of the UK, I think it is just poor education. Surely it is obvious that when the USA was born as a country, Britain had long ago been united, and the war of independence was fought against the British, not the English, although undoubtedly many of the combatants were English.

    Sorry about the long rant, the research is very exciting, but I’m getting tired of hearing the same mistake over and over again.

    Posted by: CptSunbeam   March 05, 2009
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  2. Oops, my bad! Geography never was my strong suit.

    Posted by: Bora   March 05, 2009
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  3. Science journalism on the other hand does seem to be your strong suit. This was very interesting to read, there seem to have been multiple stem cell breakthroughs in the past week alone. The next ten years are going to be very interesting.

    Posted by: CptSunbeam   March 05, 2009
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