Thursday, September 27, 2012

How a skin cells becomes an iPS cell revealed

iPS cells (taken by Kathrin Plath, UCLA)

Today we revisit the ongoing saga of how best to create iPS cells. When last we visited the Confusing (and ongoing) story of iPS vs. embryonic stem cells it was spring 2011, and several papers had just come out revealing both pros and cons of working with iPS cells.

(Just a refresher – these are the cells that behave like embryonic stem cells in a lab dish but are created from a person’s own cells, usually skin cells.)

Since the last installment, the field has seen a few papers published showing new and better ways of creating iPS cells, and several papers in which iPS cells have been used to mimic diseases in a lab dish (we blogged about that work here).

Today’s installment comes from stem cell leader Rudolph Jaenisch of MIT, who has recently published a paper examining how it is, exactly, that an adult cell like a skin cell loses its identity and takes on an embryonic-like state.

Why do you care? As long as the cell gets to the embryonic state, why worry about the mechanics of the process? Right?

It matters because this paper shows how much there is still to learn about iPS cells, and ways of creating the safest iPS cells for use in therapies. Stem cell blogger and CIRM grantee at UC Davis Paul Knoepfler wrote not one but two blogs attempting to summarize this extremely dense paper (here’s the first). Both are worth a read if you are interested in understanding the paper’s findings.

Knoepfler himself recently published a paper showing similarities between the process of creating iPS cells and the process of a normal cell turning into a cancer cell.

For our purposes, the take-away is this: There’s a lot we don’t know about iPS cells and the best, safest ways of creating them. Actually, there’s a lot we don’t know about embryonic stem cells too. And the question is whether what we don’t know can hurt us.

CIRM is currently funding projects using both embryonic and iPS cells that are expected to reach clinical trials within a few years (here’s more about why we think it’s important to fund work with both cell types). One goal of our ongoing funding of basic stem cell biology awards—including studies such as Knoepfler’s—is to make sure the field is working with the safest, most effective cells in those therapies.



  1. The issue over the years seems to have changed in structure, it only appears so; it is of the same content; and consequently of the same subject. It is highlighted by the same notion that embryonic stem cell research is unethical. Of the two kinds of stem cells, embryonic stem cells have drawn the most criticism; which is now generally attributed to Stem Cell Research as a whole. The pro-lifers attempt to hold two positions; they claim that they are not against Stem Cell Research per-se; and that they support adult stem cell research, and that their disagreements with advocates arose from embryonic-stem cell research; that which devalues human life. In the course of these arguments; the question surrounding abortion re-surfaces, that is; ‘Are Embryos forms of life?’ Regardless of arguments and classifications that show otherwise, the pro-lifers insist that an embryo is a human-being. The advocates of embryonic stem cell research respond ‘The tiny blastocyst has no human features.’ And that ‘New stem cell-lines already exist due to the common practice of in-vitro fertilization.’ The pro –lifers at this point attack in vitro fertilization by saying ‘it too is unethical.” Circular is the name of such arguments; while people desperately in need of this medical technique die.REF:

  2. CIRM is currently funding projects using both embryonic and iPS cells that are expected to reach clinical trials within a few years. And then a few years to complete the trials? How could the CIRM be so nany years behind Dr. Lanza and Advanced Cell Technology? Sounds like the CIRM will be out of funding before they even complete one trial. Maybe the CIRM ahould have funded ACTC when they needed it, now the CIRM probably couldnt even afford to buy in to their trials.