Stem cell technique to “revolutionise” regenerative medicine

April 21, 2022
Stem cell technique to “revolutionise” regenerative medicine

Transient reprogramming of stem cells may hold the answer to rejuvenating aging cells without compromising on their function, claim researchers from the Epigenetics research programme at Babraham Institute, UK. The technique, which would normally take around 50 days, instead involves partial reprogramming of cells – finessed by the Babraham researchers, the new technique exposes cells to important developmental molecules called Yamanaka factors and can be completed in under two weeks.

As we age, our cells’ ability to function declines and the genome accumulates marks of ageing. Enter regenerative biology, which aims to repair or replace ageing cells. One of the most important tools in regenerative biology is the ability to create “induced” stem cells, a process that eventually erases some of the marks that make cells specialised. In theory, induced stem cells have the potential to become any cell type, but scientists aren’t yet able to reliably recreate the necessary conditions.

However, in 2007, Shinya Yamanaka won a Nobel Prize for successfully turning normal cells, which have a specific function, into stem cells. Further tweaks to the “maturation phase transient reprogramming” enabled researchers to find the precise balance between reprogramming cells: making them biologically younger, while still being able to retain their specialised cell function.

As explained by Dr. Diljeet Gill, a postdoc in Wolf Reik’s lab at the Institute, “Our understanding of ageing on a molecular level has progressed over the last decade, giving rise to techniques that allow researchers to measure age-related biological changes in human cells. We were able to apply this to our experiment to determine the extent of reprogramming our new method achieved.”

Genome analysis showed that cells had regained markers characteristic of skin cells (fibroblasts), confirmed by observing collagen production in the reprogrammed cells. Fibroblasts produce collagen, a molecule found in bones, skin tendons and ligaments, helping provide structure to tissues and heal wounds. The rejuvenated fibroblasts produced more collagen proteins compared to control cells that did not undergo the reprogramming process, and also moved into areas that needed wound healing.

The researchers believe the novel technique may provide youthful treatment to other age-related diseases and symptoms as well.

Read: Singapore’s SCG acquires key stem cell manufacturing technology for cancer treatment

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