The therapeutical potential of pluripotent stem cells (ES or iPS) for major diseases
Pei Duanqing, Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health
Due to their ability to differentiate into all cell lineages and tissues of the body, human embryonic stem (hES) cells have been a long standing promise ever since the moment of their first successful isolation. Their inherent plasticity makes them suitable for treating diseases poorly served by conventional therapeutics. Current research focuses on the potential uses of ES cells in a range of diseases that include genetic, traumatic and degenerative conditions. The human, healthcare and fiscal costs of these conditions are significant. This novel approach has resulted in a quickly developing field of medical practice called Regenerative Medicine. However, despite its potential for reducing human suffering, ethical considerations have also ignited a debate that has seriously hampered application of hES cells in the clinic. Moreover, unless a cell transplant is derived from the patient's own cells, rejection of the transplant is inevitable. Rather than engaging in a futile debate that clouds the way forward in a vital branch of Medicine, scientists have sought to develop alternative methods that can bypass those ethical and technical problems. In this regard, the recent derivation of mouse and human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells has been acknowledged as a groundbreaking achievement. iPS cells can be generated by retroviral transduction of exogenous ES master regulators into somatic cells, which progressively changes their epigenetic program into that of ES cells. Despite many questions are still present, iPS has the potential to transform Medicine the way we understand it today. Multiple laboratories worldwide, including ours, are actively studying how to decipher the molecular pathways involved in iPS, the latter will improve the safety of the existing methods and speed up the application in the clinic.