New RiPS Stem Cells May Become Therapeutic Breakthrough
Scientists have invented an efficient way to produce apparently safe alternatives to human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos, a long-sought step toward bypassing the moral morass surrounding one of the most promising fields in medicine.A new induced stem cell technique from Harvard scientists promises to snowball into a bona fide breakthrough in regenerative medicine. Using messenger RNA (mRNA), a Harvard team has developed a safe and efficient technique for transforming virtually any cell type into an induced pluripotent stem cell.
A team of researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston published a series of experiments Thursday showing that synthetic biological signals can quickly reprogram ordinary skin cells into entities that appear virtually identical to embryonic stem cells. Moreover, the same strategy can then turn those cells into ones that could be used for transplants.
"This is going to be very exciting to the research community," said Derrick J. Rossi of the Children's Hospital Boston, who led the research published in the journal Cell Stem Cell. "We now have an experimental paradigm for generating patient-specific cells highly efficiently and safely and also taking those cells to clinically useful cell types."
Scientists hope stem cells will lead to cures for diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, heart attacks and many other ailments because they can turn into almost any tissue in the body, potentially providing an invaluable source of cells to replace those damaged by disease or injury. But the cells can be obtained only by destroying days-old embryos. _WaPo
Rossi said it was a happy coincidence that using RNA instead of changing the DNA was as much as 100-fold more efficient. He said the effect was possibly because the process more closely reflects how cells themselves transform.
Rossi successfully differentiated his stem cells into muscle cells using RNA, a process that may offer promise in gene therapy and other treatments. His method does not alter the cell's underlying genome, though Rossi admits that he does not yet understand what it does to the cell's epigenome, which controls expression of genes.
Rossi said that his cells, which he's named RiPS, for "RNA induced Pluripotent Stem" cells, are more like embryonic stem cells than traditional iPS cells because they have not been genetically altered.
Melton said the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, which includes several hundred stem-cell researchers from across Harvard University and its affiliated hospitals, will now be making its standard iPS cells with Rossi's method. _TechnologyReview
See WaPo RiPS video