Last week Harvard researchers proved that it is not only possible to create pluripotent stem cells from ordinary skin cells rather than using controversial human embryos, but without viral delivery of the critical genes required to induce the transformation. Rossi et al published the use of modified mRNA constructs to introduce the requisite gene products into common cell types to induce cellular reprogramming to a pluripotent state. The newly induced pluripotent cells have been coined RNA-induced pluripotent stem cells (RiPSCs). Furthermore, the work of Rossi and colleagues show increased efficiency of iPSC derivation by 3 to 4 orders of magnitude significantly reducing low reprogramming efficiency hurdles towards clinical application. Moreover, concerns associated with the possibility of tumor growth, as was seen with gene therapy techniques using viral vectors, will not be a factor as mRNA has no known association with genetic integration into host cells. The significance of this breakthrough was apparent as the Harvard Stem Cell Institute immediately adopted the technique as the method of choice for stem cell line development moving forward. Such advancement can be seen as instrumental to developing, safe and efficient manner, donor specific somatic cell derived iPSCs for use in areas such as basic research, disease modeling, regenerative medicine and eventually clinical applications.
This development couldn’t come at a more critical juncture as the U.S. Government is battling with two scientists who sued to stop critical research dollars from being distributed by the NIH to support stem cell research. Although a Federal Appeals judgment lifted the injunction barring funding, disruptions have already occurred in many research laboratories. The importance of the research being conducted in this area is nearly universally understood by the scientific community and prominent political figures in international communities. In fact, the U.S. Justice Department recently argued that “Congress never intended for the Dickey-Wicker rules” to prevent all of the various research being conducted with embryonic stem cells. The rules were created to insure that new cell lines were created from eligible donors and in an ethical manner, as championed by the President of the United States.
In support of the continued funding of stem cell research though federal grant funding, Senator Specter, (D-Penn.) introduced legislation on Sept. 13, S.3766-Stem Cell Research Advancement Act of 2010. The purpose: To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, and for other purposes. The act can be seen as a mechanism to proactively summons Congress to determine the fate of stem cell research funding on the Senate floor that will otherwise be determined in the courts. Let’s hope Congress is not so distracted in an election season to overlook the critical nature of stem cell research.
By: BioTek Instruments, Peter J. Brescia, Jr., MSc, MBA, Applications Scientist