New Technique May Mean a New Way to Make Stem Cells

Posted on February 26, 2018


Researchers at the Gladstone Institutes have turned the skin cells of mice into stem cells using CRISPR technology.

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. CRISPR is a segment of DNA that consists of repeated base sequences that control the body’s defense against disease-causing organisms. The CRISPR gene contains has two key molecules that act like “molecular scissors” with the ability to cut strands of DNA at specific locations to remove or replace DNA.

The feat is a scientific first and could mean advancements in the cellular reprogramming process and stem cell therapy treatments.

Gladstone is a San Francisco-based stem cell research organization that works to find cures for diseases through regenerative medicine and stem cells.

Pluripotent stem cells can develop into nearly any cell type in the body. This factor makes them critical to treating conditions that currently have no cure, such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

They also play a role in research as models to study how disease and injury impact the cells and how drugs can be used to treat these conditions.

Gladstone is not a newcomer to stem cell research and pluripotent stem cells. In 2006, one of thits eir senior scientists,  Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D., found that he could create induced pluripotent stem cells, also known as iPSCs, by applying specific proteins known as transcription factors to skin cells.

These transcription factors control what genes are expressed in cells. They can disable the genes that make the cells into skin cells and enable the genes that make the cells into stem cells.

Other methods of creating induced pluripotent stem cells involved chemical applications.

Gladstone’s new approach does not use transcription factors, but instead changes the cells’ DNA using the CRISPR gene editing.

The team used CRISPR to target two specific genes, Sox2 and Oct4. These genes are only expressed in stem cells and are essential to pluripotency. These genes turn on stem cell genes and turn off the genes related to other cell types. Using either the Sox2 or Oct4 genes, the Gladstone team was able to reprogram cells successfully.

The Gladstone researchers believe that having different options for creating iPSCs will be useful should scientists find a problem with one method. It will also be helpful in reprogramming skin cells into other specialized cells such as lung or kidney cells.

Gladstone hopes that its new method of reprogramming cells into stem cells will be useful for treating individuals with medical conditions that have no cure or for those individuals who do not respond to conventional treatments.

“Some patients and some conditions do not respond to standard therapies,” said Dr. Joel Singer.

Singer is New York physician who uses adult adipose fat stem cell therapy.

Like pluripotent stem cells, adult adipose fat stem cells can develop into many types of tissue, but adipose fat stem cells do not have to be induced or increased in a lab before use to provide therapeutic benefits.

“To use adipose fat stem cells, there is no reprogramming involved. Cells are harvested directly from the fat tissue of patients and are returned to that patient with minimal handling,” Singer said.

Minimal handling means that the stem cells are not treated or modified in any way.

“After collecting the stem cells from the adipose tissue, they are spun to separate them out from the blood and other tissue,” Singer said.

When deployed, the adipose fat stem cells go to work to repair damaged tissue.

Although Singer uses a different type of stem cell therapy, he is excited about the possibilities that the Gladstone research brings.

“We are learning more and more about the body’s powerful ability to heal itself,” Singer said.


Gladstone Institutes. “Researchers create first stem cells using CRISPR genome activation: Activating a single gene is sufficient to change skin cells into stem cells.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 January 2018.



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