A new way to generate cells for therapy

01 February 2016
Jose Polo from Monash University

Researchers from Monash University have joined international colleagues to develop a new tool that can potentially take stem out of cell therapies.

Since the landmark discovery by Nobel prize laureate Shinya Yamanaka in 2006, scientists have been able to transform one type of body cell to another by first turning them into a stem cell in the laboratory. However, this can take a long time and many steps to reprogram or revert the cell back to a naïve state, and then coax them to grow or differentiate into the desired cell type.

More recently, it has been possible to bypass the stem cell half-way point and directly convert one type of adult cell to another through a process called ‘transdifferentiation’. This is achieved by adding different combinations of supplements to the growing cells. However, exactly which of thousands of possible supplements to add, as well as how much and when, has been difficult to establish and to date has involved length and expensive trial and error experiments.

Keen to accelerate this process, Associate Professor Jose Polo from Monash University and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute joined forces with biologists and mathematicians from Australia, Britian, Japan and Singapore to effectively develop a computerised recipebook - dubbed ‘Mogrify’ - to predict the right combination of supplements needed to achieve transdifferentiation of a specific type of cell. Put simply this means a recipe to turn a skin cell for example into a heart muscle cell, quickly and at high efficiency.

Congratulating Jose and colleagues on their success, Professor Martin Pera Leader of Stem Cells Australia commented, “This new study published in Nature Genetics represents an exciting advance in understanding transdifferentiation, or the conversion of one cell type into another.  The team used a systems biology approach to generate a computational tool that identifies sets of transcription factors that can effect the inter-conversion of nearly two hundred different cell types.’ 

He added, “Scientists can use this system to predict in minutes what might take months or years to discover previously in the laboratory.  The new system will be invaluable to researchers aiming to create useful human cells in the laboratory.  It will also be very helpful in deciphering the mechanisms of phenomena like metaplasia, a process which plays an important role in a number of human diseases including cancer.”

Jose Polo is a Chief Investigator in the Stem Cells Australia initiative.

Click here to read more - Reprogramming human cells a breakthrough in disease treatment

Media coverage:
New program takes stem out of stem cells The Australian, 19 January 2016

Link to paper:
Rackham et al. (2016) A predictive computational framework for direct reprogramming between human cell types. Nature Genetics doi:10.1038/ng.3487