Faster, Cheaper Stem Cells: Fate Therapeutics Co-Founder, With Scripps Team, Finds Key

10/18/09Follow @xconomy

One of the scientific co-founders of San Diego-based Fate Therapeutics, along with his team at The Scripps Research Institute, is reporting a major advance that will make it faster, cheaper, and potentially practical on an industrial scale to turn adult cells into stem cells that can morph into any type of cell in the human body.

Sheng Ding and his colleagues at Scripps have found a combination of three conventional small-molecule chemical compounds that can coax adult human cells into an embryonic-like state. The new technique is about twice as fast as existing methods, and produces 200 times more cells per batch. The research in how to efficiently make these so-called “induced pluripotent stem cells” was sponsored by Fate, and is being published online today in the journal Nature Methods.

The technology, which is exclusively licensed to Fate through its sponsored research agreement with Scripps, is a big feather in the cap for the startup company as it seeks to strike deals with pharmaceutical and biotech companies that are looking get into the stem cell game. Fate has been a leader in the field since its founding two years ago by a group of top stem cell scientists from Harvard University, the University of Washington, Stanford University, and Scripps. One of those co-founders was Ding, a young scientist who got his first faculty post in 2003 at Scripps.

“This is the first example in human cells of how reprogramming speed can be accelerated. I believe that the field will quickly adopt this method, accelerating [induced pluripotent stem cell] research significantly,” Ding said in a statement from Scripps.

The latest advance builds on the discoveries of Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, who showed for the first time two years ago that scientists could transform adult human cells into a pluripotent state, like that of cells in an early embryo. That was important because it was a way to circumvent the political and ethical controversy over destroying embryos in order to harvest their stem cells for research.

Pioneering as that work was, it was nowhere near ready for prime-time use in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. Yamanaka and Thomson used viruses to insert multiple copies of four genes into adult cells. Two of the genes are known to cause cancer. Given that risk, it’s almost impossible to imagine regulators ever allowing cells with that kind of genetic modification to be injected into people who want to, say, regenerate new pancreas cells to treat their diabetes. The other big problem with the original method was that it took four weeks from start to finish, and only worked in about one out of every 10,000 cells.

Today’s announcement is the second big stem cell paper this year from the Ding lab. In May, the Ding lab reported that it had essentially gotten around … Next Page »

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