These cells could be used to better understand early stage of human development, modelling diseases associate with X-chromosome inactivation dynamics or, in the future, as cell source to repair damaged tissues. The research was led by Professor Nicola Elvassore at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH) and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) GOSH Biomedical Research Centre (BRC)-supported researcher.
Stem cells have the potential to become any cell in our body and can be used to study a wide range of diseases. A technique called reprogramming is widely used to generate stem cells from adult body cells such as blood and skin. These ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’ have similar characteristics to cells present during the first week of development of the human embryo.
In this study, researchers developed a novel technique that can generate stem cells in a more immature state of development, equivalent to cells found in an early stage 'post-implantation' human embryo. These ‘naïve’ cells allow researchers to get a more complete picture of errors that can occur early on in development and lead to specific diseases.
The method, which was published in Nature Cell Biology, uses an technique called microfluidics where a cocktail of molecules are added to skin cells in microscopic channels made out of biologically compatible silicon. When cells are in a confined space, they can be reprogrammed more efficiently and quickly using far fewer reagents than previous methods, making the process much more cost-effective.
Prof Elvassore, who received funding from the National Institute for Health Research GOSH Biomedical Research Centre’s recent iPSC resource call and the Oak Foundation, anticipates that this new method will become widely used by the scientific community. As well as allowing researchers to gain a understand how conditions develops, these cells could potentially be used to repair damaged tissue, for screening potential new drugs and for a range of other therapeutic uses.
The approach was developed by Professor Elvassore at ICH in collaboration with colleagues at the Department of Molecular Medicine at the University of Padova.