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iPS Cells (Induced pluripotent stem cells)


Induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, are cells that are pluripotent, meaning that they have the potential to differentiate into diverse cells, and also have unlimited capacity for self-renewal, even after cell division and multiplication. iPS cell research is one of the most important medical research projects being carried out today, and has been the subject of fierce competition among the international medical research community. It was Professor Shinya Yamanaka’s research group at Kyoto University, however, which first managed to generate iPS cells from mouse fibroblasts in 2006.

At that time, iPS cells were generated using a retrovirus to insert DNA into cell genomes, but this method, in which the retrovirus inserts the DNA directly into cell chromosomes, ran the risk of damaging DNA already present in the cell and potential causing cancer. It also had a very low success rate, with only 0–2 cells successfully generated for every 100,000 somatic cells.

Now, however, Professor Yamanaka, together with lecturer Keisuke Okita, has developed an iPS generation method that causes no damage to chromosomes, based on the transfection into cells of plasmids (circular DNA molecules) carrying four pluripotency genes. Furthermore, the use of these plasmids, which degrade rapidly post-transfection, reduces the risk of cancer. It is also 30 times more effective than the conventional method. This method was published in the online edition of Nature Methods on April 4, 2011.

(Kyoto University iPS Cell Research and Application/CiRA)