Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Australian researchers report stem cell safety breakthrough

Australian researchers at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) just reported that after 5 years of hard work, they have developed a test, the first of its kind, to identify the safety of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

The researchers, led by Andrew Laslett, consider the test to be a breakthrough in the iPSCs field, which will allow the production of high-quality iPSCs, free from dysfunctional cells that commonly form tumours, adding that it can also be used to determine how stable iPSCs are when grown in vitro. As mentioned before, the research team has spent 5 years working on the project, comparing many different iPSCs lines with human embryonic stem cells (hESCs).

"The test we have developed allows us to easily identify unsafe iPS cells. Ensuring the safety of these cell lines is paramount and we hope this test will become a routine screen as part of developing safe and effective iPS-based cell therapies." said the researchers.

With the newly developed method, the research team discovered that some of the currently used techniques to derive iPSCs carry more risks than other do. For instance, when the standard technique is used, which employs viruses that permanently alter the genetic structure of a cell, unwanted tumours are more likely to form when compared to methods that don't alter a cell's genetic structure.

Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Hopefully, the new test will raise the awareness of why stem cell safety is important and even lead to quality improvements on a global level, said Andrew Laslett.

"It is widely accepted that iPSCs made using viruses should not be used for human treatment, but they can also be used in research to understand diseases and identify new drugs. Having the assurance of safe and stable cells in all situations should be a priority," added Dr Laslett.

The test uses laser technology to identify whether certain proteins exist on the surface of iPSCs. Based on the presence or absence of these proteins the cells are separated and monitored. Dangerous iPSCs lines are easy to distinguish as they tend to form recognisable clusters of cells while the "safe" iPSCs don't. The test can also be used to investigate the safety of the recently announced somatic cell nuclear transfer human embryonic stem cells, said the researchers.

"Although cell transplantation therapies based on iPS cells are being fast-tracked for testing in humans, there is still much debate in the scientific community over the potential hazards of this new technology. This important study provides a simple and powerful technique for assessing how safe stem cell lines are for use in patients." commented Professor Martin Pera.

Carlos Polanco J, Ho MS, Wang B, Zhou Q, Wolvetang E, Mason E, Wells CA, Kolle G, Grimmond SM, Bertoncello I, O'Brien C, & Laslett AL (2013). Identification of Unsafe Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Lines Using a Robust Surrogate Assay for Pluripotency. Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio) PMID: 23728894 

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