Induced pluripotent stem cells are a fairly new medical discovery and could change the direction of medicine as a whole. So, what are these cells, where do they come from, how are they different?
Before we talk about induced pluripotent stem cells, we have to introduce the two primary types of stem cells: embryonic and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells come from a 5-day-old embryo, and the embryo must be destroyed to harvest the stem cells. Harvesting these cells is highly controversial, and many doctors—including our doctors at Cedar Stem Cell Institute—do not use them. Embryonic stem cells are unique in that they can develop into any type of cell in the human body. This means they are pluripotent and very powerful.
On the other hand, adult stem cells can be found all over the developed human body. They can be found in your bone marrow, skin, and even your fat tissue. These stem cells develop into various types of cells but are tissue specific. This means they are multipotent. These cells are relatively easy to harvest but are limited in their differentiation ability.
Because of the differentiation power of embryonic stem cells, researchers around the world started trying to “reprogram” adult stem cells to act like embryonic stem cells. This is where induced pluripotent stem cells come in.
In 2006, a Japanese researcher named Shinya Yamanaka (above) and his fellow researcher, Kazutoshi Takahashi took skin cells from adult mice, infected the cells with a retrovirus to introduce 24 genes that were identified as very important in embryonic stem cells. Unexpectedly, they had created “embryonic-like stem cells” which they later called induced pluripotent stem cells. In 2012, Yamanaka and Takahashi were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this discovery.
There are two advantages to induced pluripotent stem cells. The obvious advantage is no embryos have to be destroyed to harvest a pluripotent cell. The second advantage is this technology can genetically tailor the cells for the patient, thus decreasing the risk of an immune rejection.
If you have questions concerning induced pluripotent stem cells or stem cells in general, feel free to contact Cedar Stem Cell Institute today!