The promise of stem cells sometimes seems no more than a distant glow on the horizon, particularly for patients afflicted with devastating conditions that could potentially benefit from stem-cell-based treatments.
One hurdle has been the difficulty of creating stem cells that match a patient's genetic background--a must to avoid immune rejection or to study a person's unique disease fingerprint. The most commonly used protocols to create so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (or iPS cells) have relied on viruses or bacterially based DNA circles called plasmids to introduce the genes necessary to transform a cell from an adult tissue like skin. Unfortunately, these methods work by either popping the genes willy nilly into a cell's genome without regard to what they might muck up in the process, or they introduce foreign DNA that compromises the ability of the cell to express the necessary genes.
Now Stanford researchers Joseph Wu, MD, PhD; Michael Longaker, MD; and Mark Kay, MD, PhD, have devised a way to use tiny DNA minicircles--about one half the size of regular plasmids--to reprogram stem cells found in human fat. Their research was recently published in Nature Methods (subscription required). You can read our release about the work here.
Photo of Joseph Wu and Michael Longaker is copyrighted to Steve Fisch Photography