Monday, January 13, 2014

Skin Cells to Disease Models via SLAS?

The annual meeting of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) always provides an excellent venue for BioTek scientists to present the work accomplished over the past year.  However, it also provides an opportunity for learning given the concentration of experts from a wide range of scientific areas with a focus on streamlining processes. While reading a recent article in Drug Discovery News the topic of one of the program offerings drew my attention – a stem cell-focused short course. It wasn’t just the topic but rather the disclaimer that the course would not be focused on therapeutics but on methods to manipulate and culture induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to assure reproducible results when used in downstream processes.

This brings up an interesting point: an aspect of stem cell research that is often overshadowed by discussions of stem cells as therapeutic agents, is the use of cells derived from patients exhibiting a specific disease state, in order  to model the disease more effectively for drug discovery efforts. While the process of reprogramming adult cells and subsequent reprogramming efforts can be time consuming, the resulting physiologically relevant cells could be a tremendous asset to both industry and academic research.
The reprogramming of adult cells to a pluripotent state has been well publicized over the past years.  Now researchers are focusing on standardized methods for derivation, maintenance, characterization and differentiation of these induced pluripotent stem cells from human sources in a highly reproducible manner. Currently, the process is rather tedious and time-consuming, but great strides are being made to introduce new technologies to simplify these processes such as the use of flow cytometry and FACS for enrichment of cell populations.

Given the focus of SLAS, it will be interesting to see what new strategies have recently been developed using automated methods for derivation, selection and characterization of reprogrammed iPSCs as well as the downstream methods of differentiation and enrichment of target cell types. Furthermore, as the processes become more readily accessible it will be interesting to see how well reprogrammed cells derived from adult cells from heritable disease states accurately model the disease.

By: BioTek Instruments, Peter J. Brescia, Jr., MSc, MBA, Applications Scientist

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