The idea of the de-differentiation of mature cells into stem cells has captivated the community for the past two years since its initial publication. Is it possible to use these induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) instead of the embryonic stem cells which have garnered so much controversy? The Regenerative Medicine session on Cell De-Differentiation addressed this issue with some hard science. These cells have a lot of potential and beyond overcoming many ethical concerns, these iPS stem cells can be derived from the patient’s own cells and are likely to avoid the immune response of therapies using stem cells derived from other sources.
Currently scientists are using lentiviral vectors to introduce the transforming factors such as Oct4 and Sox2 into adult cells to transform them into iPS cells. However the efficiency is still very low around 0.01%, next generation research will focus on replacing lentiviral vectors with small molecule or protein delivery to increase the efficiency of transformation as well as increasing the level of control of protein delivery (because some of these factors are oncogenes). Researchers are optimistic that with some more work these will become the mainstay of the stem cell industry.
This type of futuristic technology may allow us to replace model organisms with cell lines of real human cells (not the dreaded immortal cell lines) to screen drugs. Potentially even screen drugs against libraries of cells harboring natural human genetic variants. There was some dodging of giving actual timelines for bringing this technology to maturity, but the panel noted that because the procedure for de-differentiation is relatively easy to perform and requires very few specialized tools there has been an explosion in the number of researchers around the world working on this important breakthrough.