Shalom Life | September 26, 2014

Israeli Scientists Make Breakthrough in Stem Cell Reprogramming

Weizmann Institute researchers show that removing one protein from adult cells enables them to efficiently turn back the clock to a stem cell-like state

By: Viva Sarah Press

Published: September 19th, 2013 in Health » Israel

Israeli Scientists Make Breakthrough in Stem Cell Reprogramming

New Israeli research could help facilitate the production of stem cells for medical use, as well as advancing our understanding of the mysterious process by which adult cells can revert back into their original, embryonic state. Weizmann Institute’s Dr. Yaqub Hanna and his team have revealed the “brake” that holds back the production of stem cells, and found that releasing this brake can both synchronize the process and increase its efficiency from around one percent or less today to 100%.

It is well known that embryonic stem cells have the enormous potential to treat and cure many medical problems among them repair damaged tissue, treat autoimmune disease and even grow transplant organs. That is why the discovery that induced embryonic-like stem cells can be created from skin cells (iPS cells) was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in 2012. But the process has remained frustratingly slow and inefficient, and the resulting stem cells are not yet ready for medical use.

That’s why Hanna and his team’s research is garnering headlines. Their findings were also published in Nature journal this week.

In 2006, a team led by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University discovered that it is possible to “reprogram” adult cells. The resulting cells, called “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs), are created by inserting four genes into their DNA. Despite this breakthrough, the reprogramming process is fraught with difficulty: It can take up to four weeks; the timing is not coordinated among the cells; and less than one percent of the treated cells actually end up becoming stem cells.

Hanna and his team have revealed the identity of the single obstacle and show that removing it can dramatically improve reprogramming.

Hanna’s group, led by Dr. Noa Novershtern, Yoach Rais, Asaf Zviran and Shay Geula of the Molecular Genetics Department, together with members of the genomics unit of the Institute’s Israel Structural Proteomics Center, looked at a certain protein, called MBD3. MBD3 had caught their attention because it is expressed in every cell in the body, at every stage of development.

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