In November 2007 scientists announced they had developed a new way to
cause mature human cells to resemble pluripotent stem cells - similar in
many ways to human embryonic stem cells. By simply altering the
expression of just four genes using genetic modification, the mature
cells were 'induced' to become more primitive, stem cells and were
referred to as 'induced' pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.
Initially iPS cells were generated using viruses to change gene
expression, however since the initial discovery, technologies for
reprogramming cells are moving very quickly and researchers are now
investigating the use of new methods that do not use viruses which can
cause permanent and potentially harmful changes in the cells. If they
are able to be made safely, and on a large scale, iPS cells could
possibly be used to provide a source of cells to replace cells damaged
following illness or disease. It may even be possible to make stem cells
for therapy from a patient's own cells and thereby avoid the use of
However, right now scientists are using this method to create disease
specific cells for research by taking a cells - maybe from a skin biopsy
- from a patient with a genetic disorder, such as Huntington’s disease,
and then using the iPS cells to study the disease in the laboratory.
Scientist hope that such an approach will help them understand the
development and progression of certain diseases, and assist in the
development and testing of new drugs to treat disease.
While the discovery of iPS cells was a very important development, more
research needs to be done to discover if they will offer the same
research value as embryonic stem cells and if they will be as useful for
To learn more about iPS cells watch What are induced pluripotent stem cells?
in our video library.