© IMP / IMBA
(December 10, 2015) Scientists in Vienna and Harvard discover a molecular key to boost reprogramming of adult cells into stem cells
In a study published in this week’s edition of NATURE, scientists from the Research Institutes of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) and Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna and from the Harvard Medical School in Boston have identified a long-sought “roadblock factor” in stem cell engineering that prevents the conversion of adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells.By suppressing this factor, the team discovered a way to erase the memory of cells, which makes it much easier to convert any cell into a stem cell.
Stem cells have the potential to develop into any specialized cell type, which makes them a valuable resource in research and regenerative medicine. Since such pluripotent cells can usually be only found in embryonic tissue prior to implantation, their isolation raises ethical concerns. In 1996, Dolly the sheep proved that genetic information from mature somatic cells can be used to generate pluripotent stem cells that in turn develop into an entire animal. In 2006, the Japanese physician Shinya Yamanaka discovered that somatic cells can be directly “reprogrammed” into a pluripotent state using four stem cell factors. The ability to create these induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) revolutionized stem cell biology and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2012.
The search for a roadblock-factor
While iPS cells are a powerful resource for biomedical research and tissue engineering, their production typically involves slow and inefficient protocols, which remains a major limitation of this technology. As a possible solution to this problem, researchers have long thought of so-called “roadblock-factors” that prevent the conversion from normal tissue into pluripotent stem cells. However, the precise factors forming this roadblock and their mechanism of action so far are poorly understood.
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