Major step forward in cell reprogramming

Imagine, if you can, a day within the next decade when a physician-scientist could remove a skin cell from your arm and with a few chemicals turn that fully formed adult cell into a dish of stem cells genetically matched to you.

That day came a giant step closer to reality on Oct. 12 with the publication in Nature Biotechnology of a report in which Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers describe successfully having used a chemical in place of half the gene cocktail currently used to reprogram adult cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

“This study demonstrates there’s a possibility that instead of using genes and viruses to reprogram cells, one can use chemicals,” said Doug Melton, HSCI co-director and senior author of the study, whose first author is Danwei Huangfu, a postdoctoral fellow in Melton’s lab.

“The exciting thing about Danwei’s work is you can see how one might be able to sprinkle chemicals on cells and make stem cells,” said Melton, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, giving his postdoc credit for the experiment.

This publication marks Huangfu’s second success employing chemicals in reprogramming: Last year, working with mouse cells, Huangfu used a chemical to improve the efficiency of the gene-induced reprogramming process.

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