Scientists at Scripps Research Institute have found a way to reprogram mature human cells into their pluripotent state and safely turn them into stem cells which as we know can change into other cell types. This reprogramming would pave the way for the large-scale production of stem cells that could be used inexpensively and consistently in drug development. Cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and many other diseases might be possible if new cells could be created from a patient’s own cells to replace those that are diseased or damaged.
In his research report, Associate Professor Sheng Ding, PhD, reports a novel cocktail of drug-like small molecules that, with the assistance of a gene called Oct4, enables reprogramming of human skin cells into stem cells.
Ding says: “Our ultimate goal is to generate induced pluripotent stem cells with defined small molecules, this would offer a fundamentally new method and significant advantages over previous methods, such as genetic manipulation or more difficult-to-manufacture biologics.”
Scientists have known for years that a cell’s identity is reversible if given the right signal but there were / are always safety concerns when the host cell’s genome is manipulated as that process has shown to induce tumors or interrupt the function of normal genes. Because of this danger, scientists have been looking to induce reprogramming without the use of these cancer-causing genes. The method the Ding lab has been pioneering — using small, synthetic molecules — represents a fundamentally different approach from the previous methods and a significant breakthrough in cellular reprogramming.
A future goal is to replace Oct4, a master regulator of pluripotency, in the chemical cocktail. “That would be the last step toward achieving the Holy Grail,” Ding says. “Our latest discovery brings us one step closer to this dream.”