|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.