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Cells from fat and moles re-programmed to make stem cells

14 September 2009
Appeared in BioNews 525

Two groups of US scientists have found new ways of obtaining adult stem cells from fat and moles, using method that are quicker and more efficient than deriving them from skin cells. The work is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The usual way to make adult induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) is from fibroblast cells scraped from the skin. The technique takes about a month to culture a population large enough to undergo the reprogramming process to turn them into iPS cells, and is then relatively inefficient as it yields only one iPS cell from about 10,000 skin fibroblasts. The iPS cells can then be used to make any other cell type for use in research and, it is hoped, eventually to treat disease.

The poor chances of successfully obtaining iPS cells from skin fibroblasts has led many groups of researchers to attempt to find faster and more efficient methods. Some have tried with blood, hair, bone marrow and neural stem cells with no improved success rate; one successful method was found using hair-like keratinocytes from a baby’s foreskin, although this is unsuitable for adult patients.

A team of cardiologists and plastic surgeons led by Joseph Wu and Michael Longaker at Stanford University School of Medicine in California took litres of fat from the stomachs of four overweight adults extracted by liposuction. They then treated it to remove all the globular fat and obtain adipose fat cells, which were ready to be used in a few days. The cellular reprogramming using viruses then took only two further weeks and was 20 times more efficient than using fibroblasts. They were also able to obtain iPS cells without using mouse feeder cells, which are necessary in the usual method to support the developing stem cells.

Fat is a 'readily available, great natural resource, and a renewable one', says Longaker, a professor of plastic surgery at Stanford, who referred to the fat as 'liquid gold'. His colleague Wu, an assistant professor of medicine, says that 'fat cells are multipotent, which should make it easier to reprogramme them'.

In a similar study published in the Journal of Cell Science, Konrad Hochedlinger and colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston claim to have reprogrammed melanocytes from moles into iPS cells. The researchers found that melanocytes undergo reprogramming after just ten days and with five-fold greater success rates than with fibroblasts.

The Stanford scientists admit that there are still many questions to be answered before fat cells become the industry iPS cell standard. For example, the exact sub-population of fat cells that is most easily reprogrammable needs to be defined, and also safety concerns need to be addressed, particularly regarding the technique using viruses, and the cancerous potential of the new iPS cells. The results, however, are being regarded as an exciting and promising new technology for iPS.

Adult fat cells easily become multi-purpose stem cells: Stanford research
LA Times |  8 September 2009
Flab and freckles could advance stem cell research
Nature |  8 September 2009
Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Created From Fat Cells
Scientific American |  8 September 2009
Liposuction fat 'liquid gold of stem cells'
The Daily Telegraph |  8 September 2009
Liposuction Fat Turned Into Stem Cells, Study Says
National Geographic |  8 September 2009
Liposuction leftovers make easy stem cells: study
Reuters |  8 September 2009
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