Mapping a route to stem cell therapies

May 20, 2013
Mapping a route to stem cell therapies
Dr Jose Polo has mapped the stem cell re-programming process for the first time. Credit: ThinkStock

Monash University researchers are shedding light on the complex processes that underpin the creation and differentiation of stem cells, bringing closer the promise of 'miracle' therapies.

Dr Jose Polo of the Australian Institute (ARMI) and the Department of Anatomy and and his team, with collaborators at Harvard, have comprehensively mapped, for the first time, the process by which are re-programmed to become an induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell.
iPS cells behave almost exactly like - they can become any cell in the body - but come without the ethical and scientific pitfalls.

The re-programming process was developed in 2006; however, until now, it was unknown exactly how it worked.

Dr Polo has unravelled the precise molecular events occurring in an adult at almost every level throughout the re-programming process. The results were published in the prestigious journal Cell.

Every cell in the body contains a full genome or complete set of DNA. The differences between a brain neuron and a are down to the fact that although they contain the exact same genes, not all of these are active in each cell - a process known as transcription.

Proteins called control which genes are active or inactive by changing the availability of the genes to be transcribed. This in turn mediates the differentiation of stem cells to all the different types of cells in the body. It is the reversal of this complex process - returning an to its pluripotent state - that the researchers mapped.

"Once you understand a process, you can manipulate it," Dr Polo said.

"Now that we have created a roadmap for re-programming, we can do a lot of things. We can look at improving the efficiency of re-programming and investigating if some of the potential dangers can be avoided by re-routing the process."

Now, Dr Polo's team is investigating whether re-programming follows an identical path for all types of cells. They are also looking at the potentially cancer-causing mutations in iPS cells and ways to circumvent this tumorific potential.

Another project is examining "memory" in iPS cells and its implications.

"For example, if I create an iPS cell from a blood cell and an iPS cell from a muscle cell, the two are a little different - they carry memories of where they were generated. Now I'm examining ways to exploit these memories," Dr Polo said.

Dr Polo said these and many more complexities must be understood before stem cell therapy can move effectively into the clinical arena.

"Modern medicine has achieved wonderful things, but doctors are like mechanics trying to fix a car without access to spare parts," Dr Polo said.

"The promise of stem cells is amazing - it will almost bring us into a new age of medicine - but there's a lot more work to do before this promise can be realised."

Explore further: Scientists develop new protocol to ready induced pluripotent stem cell clinical application

Related Stories

Novel probe for live human iPS cell imaging

May 16, 2013

Researchers from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) have developed a highly sensitive lectin probe, rBC2LCN, for human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). rBC2LCN allows staining ...

Recommended for you

Ants need work-life balance, research suggests

January 16, 2017

As humans, we constantly strive for a good work-life balance. New findings by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology suggest that ants, long perceived as the workaholics of the insect world, do the same.

New tools will drive greater understanding of wheat genes

January 16, 2017

Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists have developed a much-needed genetic resource that will greatly accelerate the study of gene functions in wheat. The resource, a collection of wheat seeds with more than 10 million ...

How China is poised for marine fisheries reform

January 16, 2017

As global fish stocks continue sinking to alarmingly low levels, a joint study by marine fisheries experts from within and outside of China concluded that the country's most recent fisheries conservation plan can achieve ...

Common crop chemical leaves bees susceptible to deadly viruses

January 16, 2017

A chemical that is thought to be safe and is, therefore, widely used on crops—such as almonds, wine grapes and tree fruits—to boost the performance of pesticides, makes honey bee larvae significantly more susceptible ...

SMiLE-seq: A new technique speeds up genetics

January 16, 2017

Scientists at EPFL have developed a technique that can be a game-changer for genetics by making the characterization of DNA-binding proteins much faster, more accurate, and efficient.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.