Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US have found a faster and more efficient way to reprogramme cells into embryonic-like stem cellsso that they can be used to study genetic disorders such as sickle cell anaemia. The study was published in the journal Stem Cell last week.
The team's work was based on the recently-established technique of creating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) from adult skin cells, which was reported in BioNews in November last year. They found that by adding a viral protein - known as SV40 large T antigen (T) - into the original iPS-generating process, which used four genes thought sufficient to reprogramme skin cells, iPS cells were created in just 12 to 14 days instead of three to four weeks. Addition of this protein also boosted efficiency of the process as much as 70-fold, the researchers report.
Linzhao Cheng, an associate professor of gynaecology and obstetrics, medicine and oncology and a member of the John Hopkins Institute of Cell Engineering, said: 'not only did T speed up reprogramming, we also found that it increases the total number of reprogrammed cells, which is great because often not all the cells go all the way'. He also warned that rigorous tests must be carried out to ascertain that the cells created in this way do in fact behave like pluripotent embryonic stem cells.
Having optimised the process, the researchers then reprogrammed cells that contained the genetic mutation associated with sickle cell anaemia. This allowed them to establish three embryonic-like stem cell lines that can be used for the study of the disease, a much sought after tool for research of genetic disorders. This is especially significant for blood diseases like sickle cell anaemia, as blood stem cells are difficult to keep alive for very long in the lab and patients have to repeatedly give samples, Cheng explained. 'Having these new cell lines available might enable some bigger projects, like screening for potential drugs', he added.