Seeking superior stem cells

New technique produces one hundred-fold increase in efficiency in reprogramming human cells

Seeking superior stem cells

colony.jpgGenome Research Limited
A SH-iPSC Colony on STO feeders.

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have today (10/10/2011) announced a new technique to reprogramme human cells, such as skin cells, into stem cells. Their process increases the efficiency of cell reprogramming by one hundred-fold and generates cells of a higher quality at a faster rate.

Until now cells have been reprogrammed using four specific regulatory proteins. By adding two further regulatory factors, Liu and co-workers brought about a dramatic improvement in the efficiency of reprogramming and the robustness of stem cell development. The new streamlined process produces cells that can grow more easily.

"This research is a milestone in human stem cells. Our technique provides a foundation to unlock the full potential of stem cells."

Wei Wang, first author on the research from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Stem cells are unspecialized cells that are able to renew themselves through cell division and can be induced to become functional tissue- or organ-specific cells. It is hoped that stem cells will be used to replace dying or damaged cells with healthy, functional cells. This could have wide-ranging uses in medicine such as organ replacement, bone replacement and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

With more than 20 years of research, gold standard stem cells are derived from mice, largely because they are easy to work with and provide accurate and reproducible results. The team's aim was to develop human cells of equivalent quality to mouse stem cells.

"The reprogrammed cells developed by our team have proved to have the same capabilities as mouse stem cells. Our approach will enable researchers to easily engineer and reprogramme human stem cells to generate cell types for cell replacement therapies in humans."

Pentao Liu, senior author from the Sanger Institute

Retinoic acid receptor gamma (RAR-Y) and liver receptor homolog (Lrh-1), the additional regulatory factors used by Liu and co-workers, were introduced into the skin cells along with the four other regulatory proteins. The team's technology produced reprogrammed cells after just four days, compared to the seven days required for the four-protein approach. Key indicators of successfully reprogrammed cells, Oct4 and Rex-1 genes, were seen to be switched on much faster in a much higher number of cells, demonstrating increased efficiency in reprogramming.

"This is the most promising and exciting development in our attempt to develop human stem cells that lend themselves in practical applications. It bears comparison to other technologies as it is simple, robust and reliable."

Allan Bradley, Senior Group Leader and Director Emeritus at the Sanger Institute

Notes to Editors
  • Rapid and efficient reprogramming of somatic cells to induced pluripotent stem cells by retinoic acid receptor gamma and liver receptor homolog 1.

    Wang W, Yang J, Liu H, Lu D, Chen X et al.

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2011;108;45;18283-8


This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust and by the China Scholarship Council

Participating Centres
  • Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Hinxton, United Kingdom
  • College of Animal Science and Technology, Huazhong Agriculture University, Wuhan, China
  • Science Applications International Corporation-Frederick, Frederick
  • National Cancer Institute-Frederick, Frederick
  • Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge United Kingdom
Selected Websites
Contact the Press Office

Dr Samantha Wynne, Media Officer

Tel +44 (0)1223 492 368

Emily Mobley, Media Officer

Tel +44 (0)1223 496 851

Wellcome Sanger Institute,
CB10 1SA,

Mobile +44 (0) 7900 607793

Recent News

First lung map uncovers new insights into asthma
Understanding lung cells and their signals could help towards finding new asthma drug targets
Sanger Institute researcher honoured by EMBO
Professor Nicole Soranzo becomes an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization
Pneumonia mapped in largest genomic survey of any disease-causing bacterium
Study will help predict strains important for new vaccines