The Difference Made by iPS Cells

As I've noted in the past, it's essential to keep an eye on progress in infrastructure in science and research. When costs are lowered and easy of use increases, more people join the research community, and those already achieve existing goals more rapidly. New goals, previously too costly to consider, become attainable. Cost of infrastructure is the foundation upon which a research community takes form and makes progress.

Cost isn't just a matter of dollars, of course, though it all boils down to dollars and time in the end. You have to consider the skills of potential researchers - is the technique too hard for most? Also the equipment needed for a given strategy: do many laboratories already have it in place, and thus have no need to invest money before research can commence? Improvement can be as much a matter of making new strategies work for existing staff and equipment as inventing a new and cheaper methodology.

I noticed an article today that gives a very good idea of the level of benefit brought to the regenerative medicine community by the development of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. To refresh your memory as to what these are:

A pluripotent cell can create all cell types except for extra embryonic tissue

...

Induced pluripotent stem cells, commonly abbreviated as iPS cells or iPSCs, are a type of pluripotent stem cell artificially derived from a non-pluripotent cell, typically an adult somatic cell, by inducing a "forced" expression of certain genes. Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells are believed to be identical to natural pluripotent stem cells, such as embryonic stem cells in many respects

As the article notes, many more laboratories are equipped and ready to work with iPS cells than with embryonic stem cells:

He said he's amazed at how quickly scientists have begun exploring the use of the reprogrammed skin cells he reported on last year. "People are jumping in very rapidly, much more rapidly than they did 10 years ago" after the initial discovery of embryonic stem cells, Thomson said.

In all, 812 labs in dozens of countries have requested the materials needed to reprogram ordinary cells into iPS cells, said Addgene, a Massachusetts-based repository for research supplies. By contrast, a half-dozen or so labs started working with embryonic stem cells in the months after his landmark 1998 paper, Thomson said.

Progress along this path will be much more rapid than the progress we've seen in the past decade. This is exactly the sort of acceleration needed if we are to see cultured replacement organs and other radical applications of regenerative medicine in emerging from the labs a decade from now.

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