Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells
The University of Michigan has embarked on a massive research project in which they will derive stem cell lines from donated human embryos. But another aspect of the program may be even more exciting. The researchers will work on refining techniques that can convert adult skin cells into something called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells.
These iPS cells have been reprogrammed in such a way that they exhibit those properties of embryonic stem cells that are considered most valuable to science. If the researchers are successful, future stem cell research will be able to be carried out with no need for human embryonic material. Sean Morrison, the director of the university's Center for Stem Cell Biology said, "We will pursue all forms of stem cell research so that we can achieve scientific and medical breakthroughs, no matter where they come from."
Starting at the beginning of 2010, the university's Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies will put out a call for proposals from the university's researchers who are in need of funding that can fuel the derivation of new iPS cell lines, explained the consortium's co-director Sue O'Shea. O'Shea is also a professor of cell and developmental biology at the U of M. The consortium's main focus right now is to derive human embryonic stem cell lines as well as iPS cells that contain the genetic material known to be the cause of inherited diseases. "There are very few university programs in the United States deriving disease-affected embryonic stem cell lines," explained O'Shea. "Our special niche will be creating, studying and understanding normal and abnormal development of disease-affected stem cell lines—both embryonic and iPS cell lines."
The first targets for the university's research are likely to be neurological diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS), Alzheimer's disease, and Huntington's disease. The director of the U of M's A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, Dr. Eva Feldman stated, "Stem cell research has special application to neurological diseases. Providing stem cell lines containing the genes that lead to specific diseases will be an incredible boon to medical scientists."
Feldman, a professor of neurology explained that the work the university has undertaken will help researchers to understand both the origin and progression of several diseases and allow them to test new therapeutic agents in a more efficient manner than ever dreamed of before. Feldman is hopeful that the work that will be done at the university may even lead to cures for diseases that at present lack effective treatments, and called the project, "a major step forward."