Salk Institute for Biological Studies Release: New Study Shows Simple Conversion Of Skin Cells Into White Blood-Like Cells

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A study published in STEM CELLS on August 30, 2014, details a new, simple, and highly efficient way to convert cells taken from an adult’s skin into stem cells that have the potential to differentiate into white blood cells.

Stem cells are the keystone of regenerative medicine due to their ability to be coaxed into becoming nearly any cell in the body. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are of particular interest because they can be generated directly from adult cells and thus many of the controversies associated with embryonic stem cells are avoided.

However, a major problem with iPSCs is their propensity to differentiate into immature cells. This is particularly true of hematopoietic (blood) cells, and the ability to generate long-term, re-populating hematopoietic stem cells has long eluded researchers.

“In terms of potential clinical applications, the hematopoietic system represents one of the most suitable tissues for stem cell-based therapies as it can be relatively easily reconstituted upon bone marrow or umbilical cord blood cell transplantation. However, and even though much effort has focused on the derivation of hematopoietic cells from iPSCs, their grafting and differentiation potential remains limited,” said Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, Ph.D., of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA.

He and his colleagues at the Salk Institute, the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona, and the Centre for Biomedical Network Research on Rare Diseases (CIBERER), Madrid, decided to tackle this problem using a gene called Sox2 and a gene-regulating molecule called miRNA 125b. The Sox2 gene was used as a “primer” to coax human fibroblasts (the most common cells of connective tissue in animals) into differentiating into CD34+ cells, which are primitive blood- and bone marrow-derived progenitor cells. The miRNA 125b was then added to facilitate the differentiation of these CD34+ stem cells into more mature, hematopoietic-like stem cells.

“To our knowledge this is the first time human skin cells have been converted into white blood-like cells with reconstitution and migratory potential, able to further mature in vivo and, more importantly, to graft into distant hematopoietic sites” Dr. Belmonte said. “Our results indicate this strategy could help circumvent obstacles to reprogramming human cells into blood cells that have clinical potential.”

Jan Nolta,Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of STEM CELLS, said, “we are proud to feature this interesting work that shows that miRNA 125b facilitates the differentiation of fibroblast-derived progenitors into more mature, hematopoietic-like stem cells. This is exciting for future research into the blood-forming system.”

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