Reprogrammed stem cells may mirror embryonic ones after all

Donor genetics may explain why the two cell types vary

BOSTON — Some concerns about whether reprogrammed stem cells are acceptable stand-ins for embryonic stem cells in biomedical research may be laid to rest by a new study.

Previously, scientists have found that gene activity, such as how genes turn on and off, differs between induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, and embryonic stem cells, the flexible cells that iPS cells are designed to mimic.

Those problems probably arise from the fact that iPS and embryonic stem cells come from donors with different genetic makeups, Natsuhiko Kumasaka of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England, said October 24 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics.

Kumasaka and his colleagues reprogrammed cells from four people. All cells reprogrammed from a single donor had similar gene activity, but the activity differed slightly from that of cells made from other donors, the researchers found. The difference in gene activity between donors is similar to the discrepancies previously noted between embryonic stem cells and iPS cells. 

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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