Scripps Scientists home in on chemicals to reprogramme cells

Scripps Research Institute scientists have made a significant leap forward in the drive to find a way to safely reprogramme mature human cells and turn them into stem cells, which can then change into other cell types, such as nerve, heart, and liver cells.

The ability to transform fully mature adult cells such as skin cells into stem cells has potentially profound implications for treating many diseases.

In research published in the 3 December 2010 issue of Cell Stem Cell, Scripps Research Associate Professor Sheng Ding, PhD, reports a novel cocktail of drug-like small molecules that, with the assistance of a gene called Oct4, enables reprogramming of human skin cells into stem cells.

''Our ultimate goal is to generate induced pluripotent stem cells with defined small molecules,'' Ding said. ''This would offer a fundamentally new method and significant advantages over previous methods, such as genetic manipulation or more difficult-to-manufacture biologics.''

Using small-molecule compounds to reprogram adult human cells back to their pluripotent state - able to change into all other cell types - avoids the ethical controversy around embryonic stem cell research, and paves the way for the large-scale production of stem cells that could be used inexpensively and consistently in drug development.

Cures for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and many other diseases might be possible if new cells could be created from a patient's own cells to replace those that have succumbed to disease or injury.