Watching Stem Cell Infrastructure

Advances in infrastructure drive the pace of research: making tools better, cheaper, and faster means that established research groups can do more, and more new research groups can afford to enter the field. Here is some good news on that front: researchers have "developed a method that dramatically improves the efficiency of creating stem cells from human adult tissue ... The new technique, which uses three small drug-like chemicals, is 200 times more efficient and twice as fast as conventional methods for transforming adult human cells into stem cells (in this case called 'induced pluripotent stem cells' or 'iPS cells'). ... In developing the improved method, Ding drew on his knowledge of biology. He decided he would focus his efforts on manipulating a naturally occurring process in cells, in particular in a type of adult cell called fibroblasts, which give rise to connective tissue. This naturally occurring process - called MET (mesenchymal to ephithelial cell transition) - pushes fibroblasts closer to a stem-cell-like state. If he could manipulate such a fundamental process to encourage MET and the formation of stem cells, Ding reasoned, such a method would be both safer and more direct than hijacking other aspects of biology, for example those directly involved in cancer. ... the safety profile of the new method is highly promising. Not only is the method based on natural biological processes, [but] also the type of molecules used have all been tested in humans."



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