Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) can be made by reprogramming mature adult cells back into an embryonic-like state. Derived from skin or blood cells, iPS cells are not controversial, because they are made from adult cells. As pluripotent stem cells, they can give rise to all of the tissues that form the human body.
In this article:
- Discovery of iPS Cells
- iPS Cells vs. Embryonic Stem Cells
- Diseases Treatable with iPS Cells
- Funding for iPS Cell Technology
- iPS Cell Commercialization
Induced pluripotent stem cells are a fascinating cell type with enormous therapeutic potential. Let’s dive into everything you need to know about iPS cells and their diverse applications.
Discovery of iPS Cells
In 2006, the Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka used the concept of pluripotent stem cells to demonstrate that an ordinary cell can be turned into a pluripotent cell by genetic modification. He called these genetically reprogrammed cells induced pluripotent cells, often abbreviated as iPS cells.
iPS cells have significant potential for therapeutic applications. For autologous applications, the cells are extracted from the patient’s own body, making them genetically identical to the patient and eliminating the issues associated with tissue matching and tissue rejection.
Derived from skin or blood cells, iPS cells are not controversial. Unlike embryonic stem cells, iPS cells are made from adult cells instead of embryos. iPS cells are mature, differentiated cells that get manipulated by researchers within a laboratory to reverse to an embryonic-like state.
In contrast, human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are controversial because they are derived from embryos created at fertility clinics with informed donor consent. ESCs are harvested shortly after fertilization, usually within 4-5 days, and are created from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst. Scientists first isolated embryonic stem cells in mice in 1981. Seventeen years later, in 1998, researchers isolated human embryonic stem cells.
Human iPS Cells
In contrast, iPS cells were discovered in mice in 2006 and then in humans by 2007. iPS cells are non-controversial, which allowed quicker and more intensive experimentation with human cells. Additionally, advances with embryonic stem cells helped to support research progress with iPS cells, because iPS cells and embryonic stem cells share traits associated with pluripotency.
As pluripotent stem cells, both embryonic stem cells and iPS cells can become any of the approximately 200 cell types that form the human body.
Diseases Treatable with iPS Cells
Although there is not yet an approved use of an iPS cell therapeutic anywhere in the world, iPS cells have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases, including:
- heart diseases
- autoimmune diseases
- neural complications such as Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease
- orthopedic applications
- and more
Funding for iPS Cell Technology
Given the enormous potential of iPSC technology, the funding of research with this cell type has been accelerating on a global basis. For example, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) invests $1.5 billion annually into stem cell research projects, spanning a wide range of fields from cell biology to electrical engineering. The National Ataxia Foundation (NAF) has also been encouraging research institutes to venture into iPS cell research.
Several U.S. state programs have also made contributions to stem cell research projects. Notably, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) approved a plan to spend $3 billion to support stem cell research. On the academic front, the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis received an impressive $10 million commitment from the Couch family to support research that advances personalized medicine, including support for the university’s Genome Engineering and Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Center.
Globally, the Japanese government has been particularly favorable toward iPS cells. Japan’s Education Ministry announced that it planned to spend 110 billion yen ($1.13 billion) on iPS cell research over a period of ten years. The Japanese parliament also passed a law calling for Japan to make regenerative medical treatments like iPSC technology available for its citizens “ahead of the rest of the world.”
iPS Cell Commercialization
Since the discovery of iPS cells, a large and thriving research product market has grown into existence, largely because the cells are non-controversial and can be generated directly from adult cells. Today, there are dozens of companies supplying of iPS cell lines, differentiated cell types, kits, assays, reprogramming services, and more.
In addition their research applications, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) can be used for:
- drug screening
- toxicological studies
- disease modeling
- cell therapy
- personalized medicine
- industrial-scale manufacturing
- potentially, “clean meat” production and wildlife conservation
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