Stem cell discovery may make tissue regeneration more efficient

Posted: July 30, 2014 at 2:50 am

A new stem-cell discovery might one day lead to a more streamlined process for obtaining stem cells, which in turn could be used in the development of replacement tissue for failing body parts, according to UC San Francisco scientists who reported the findings in the current edition of Cell.

The work builds on a strategy that involves reprogramming adult cells back to an embryonic state in which they again have the potential to become any type of cell.

The efficiency of this process may soon increase thanks to the scientists identification of biochemical pathways that can inhibit the necessary reprogramming of gene activity in adult human cells. Removing these barriers increased the efficiency of stem-cell production, the researchers found.

Our new work has important implications for both regenerative medicine and cancer research, said Miguel Ramalho-Santos, Ph.D., associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF, who led the research, funded in part by a prestigious NIH Directors New Innovator Award.

The earlier discovery that it was possible to take specialized adult cells and reverse the developmental clock to strip the mature cells of their distinctive identities and characteristics and to make them immortal, reprogrammable cells that theoretically can be used to replace any tissue type led to a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine being awarded to UCSF, Gladstone Institutes and Kyoto University researcher Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., in 2012.

These induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are regarded as an alternative experimental approach to ongoing efforts to develop tissue from stem cells obtained from early-stage human embryos. However, despite the promise of iPS cells and the excitement surrounding iPS research, the percentage of adult cells successfully converted to iPS cells is typically low, and the resultant cells often retain traces of their earlier lives as specialized cells.

Researchers generate stem cells by forcing the activation within adult cells of pluripotency-inducing genes starting with the so-called Yamanaka factors a process that turns back the clock on cellular maturation.

Yet, as Ramalho-Santos notes, From the time of the discovery of iPS cells, it was appreciated that the specialized cells from which they are derived are not a blank slate. They express their own genes that may resist or counter reprogramming.

But the nature of what exactly was getting in the way of reprogramming remained poorly understood. Now, by genetically removing multiple barriers to reprogramming, we have found that the efficiency of generation of iPS cells can be greatly increased, he said. The discovery will contribute to accelerating the safe and efficient use of iPS cells and other reprogrammed cells, according to Ramalho-Santos.

Miguel Ramalho-Santos

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Stem cell discovery may make tissue regeneration more efficient

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