iPS type stem cells pushed to become replacement tissue for bladder repair, possibly after cancer

A CIRM-funded team at the University of California at Davis has developed an efficient method for coaxing early-stage stem cells known as pluripotent cells into becoming the specialized tissue that lines our bladders and protects them from the acid in urine.

Because the bladder is one of our simpler organs it has been one of the early success stories of using tissue engineering to replace an organ. Teams have removed a few semi-specialized cells from patients’ bladders, encouraged them to proliferate in the lab and then seeded them on artificial scaffolds that can become patches or in some cases whole new organs. But this only works when you can harvest healthy versions of these precursor, or progenitor cells. That can be done in children born with bladder defects and in some patients with damage due to disease, but it cannot be done in patients with damage due to bladder cancer. And those patients make up 90 percent of people needing bladder repair.

That led Eric Kurzrock and the other members of his Davis team to work with pluripotent stem cells, first embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and then iPS cells generated by reprogramming skin or other adult tissue. They developed a procedure that did not require genetic manipulation to drive the stem cells to become bladder cells and a method to keep those cells growing in the lab for a long time, something that is key to bioengineering a larger patch or whole organ.

The team published its work in the journal CIRM-helped to found, Stem Cells Translational Medicine, and the San Francisco Chronicles’ web site SFGate ran the publisher’s press release. The release had a quote from Jan Nolte, one of the study authors who directs the CIRM-funded regenerative medicine center at Davis. She talks about the broader implications of being able to direct a patient’s own cells to become iPS cells and then to direct those to become repair tissue:

“What’s exciting about this discovery is that it also opens up an array of opportunities using pluripotent cells. When we can reliably direct and differentiate pluripotent stem cells, we have more options to develop new and effective regenerative medicine therapies. The protocols we used to create bladder tissue also provide insight into other types of tissue regeneration.”

Researchers are pursuing many different avenues to developing replacement tissues and organs. You can read about many of those approaches in the CIRM tissue engineering workshop report.

Don Gibbons

CIRM funding: Eric Kurzrock RB2-01567