The Strange Problem with iPSCs

Though research on stem cells is already decades old, attempts to grow them to maturity in the laboratory often fail. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are already mature cells coaxed to going back to being stem cells. However, the strange problem that researchers have been having with them is that their maturation stops in the embryonic stage, even if they’re grown in a dish for more than a year.

Now, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University have published a study showing why. They even imply a possible way to overcome it. As the research team is interested in treating heart ailments using stem cells, they hope that the findings will advance the use of stem cells to study and treat adult-onset heart diseases.

New Findings

To learn more of this problem and how it might be resolved, the researchers analyzed more than 200 heart cell samples from mice embryos and animals of every stage through their adulthood. They also looked at cells from lab-grown heart tissue, which was grown from iPSCs.

Cells mature by intricately expressing genes at precise moments so that the right proteins are made at the right time. Specifically, the researchers looked at the expression of more than 17,000 genes in the cells to try and determine if a particular gene was being used and how much it was being underutilized.

The results pointed towards certain pathways that normally halt and resume as heart cells mature. Surprisingly, in the iPSCs, many of the pathways that were supposed to be off in adult cells were on, and vice versa; their maturation levels corresponded to that of late-gestation embryos, potentially explaining why iPSCs have maturation arrests. The next step for the researchers now is to know how to tune the pathways to induce true maturity and recreate adult heart tissue in the lab. They also intend to use their method to study tissue maturation of other organs.

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