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Happy 10th Birthday, iPSCs!

Paige Collins

Paige Collins | Thursday, August 25, 2016

Today marks the 10th anniversary of induced pluripotent stem cells, and we're celebrating this milestone with a (blog) carnival.

If you want to solve a problem, you have to understand it.

When it comes to human health, the problems – diseases – can be complex. This is where research comes in. Scientific research allows us to deconstruct these complex problems, and develop the understanding needed to devise solutions – therapies.

In order to conduct this research, you need to be able to access the cells that are implicated in a given disease. Ideally, you obtain and work with cells that are similar, if not identical, to those you ultimately hope to treat. This is why scientists here at the SCC-RI work with human cells - we want to ensure that all of our research is relevant to the human patients we are striving to help.

It can be difficult to access the required human cells, though. For example, if you want to study autism spectrum disorder, you can’t simply take brain tissue from a person diagnosed with the condition – they’ll be needing that! So, scientists have had to be creative in coming up with ways to get the materials they need.

Ten years ago, in 2006, Shinya Yamanaka and Kazutoshi Takahashi made an enormous breakthrough in this regard. They discovered that a simple cocktail of genes could revert differentiated cells back to a pluripotent state, giving them the potential to then become any cell type in the body. The method they introduced for reprogramming accessible adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells gave researchers a new strategy for accessing the cells they need to study human disease.

In the ten years since that initial discovery a lot of progress has been made. Researchers have applied this technology to the study of a whole host of tissue types and disease areas. Through the use of reprogramming strategies researchers have been able to generate lung, heart and nerve tissues – just to name a few.

We’re proud to have contributed to this progress. In the past ten years, growing up alongside cellular reprogramming, we have made it one of our specialties. SCC-RI researchers have had success in demystifying the mechanisms of reprogramming, and in introducing novel ways to streamline the process to more efficiently generate both blood and neural cells. In fact, the SCC-RI was the first to demonstrate a new type of reprogramming, “direct conversion,” wherein cells bypass the intermediary pluripotent stage on their way to becoming the cell types required for disease modelling and patient-specific drug screening. We continue to work on cellular reprogramming, with a particular focus on (a) using the technology to create new models for a range of diseases, and (b) adapting cells generated through reprogramming strategies to our drug discovery screening platform in order to identify new therapeutics for these diseases.

Going forward, I hope and expect to see more of the same from the field of regenerative medicine: progress. While it may seem long to some, ten years is practically the blink of an eye in science. It’s estimated that it takes an average of 17 years to translate discoveries from bench to bedside1. What has been accomplished thus far, in such a relatively short period of time, is extraordinary. Cellular reprogramming has been transformed from an interesting concept with a lot of potential, to a reliable tool being used to develop the understanding that we need to address our most pressing human health problems.

While we may not have the tangible treatments we all hope for yet, we’re getting there. Cellular reprogramming is allowing us to understand the problems, and develop solutions.

Our blog is one of many covering this topic as part of the iPSC anniversary blog carnival hosted by CCRM’s Signals. Please click here to read more from the other bloggers.


  1. Morris ZS, Wooding S, Grant J. The answer is 17 years, what is the question: understanding time lags in translational research. J R Soc Med. 2011 Dec;104(12):510-20.