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Skin cells becoming induced pluripotent stem cells

Image credit: Keisuke Kaji, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh

Molecule role discovery gives cell production in lab a boost

27 Nov 2017

Researchers at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine have discovered the pivotal role two molecules play in boosting the reprogramming of cells – a process through which cells of one type can be converted to another. The discovery could help the study of diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease by speeding up the production of cells in the lab.

The research pinpointed two molecules called SMAD2 and SMAD3 and revealed the role the molecules can play in enhancing the efficiency of converting mature cells into induced pluripotent stem cells – cells which have the distinctive ability to become any type of cell found in the body.

The research team hope the discovery could help to boost supplies of cells for use in drug discovery research and could eventually aid production of cells for use as new treatments and therapies.

The team were surprised to find the molecules can also boost direct conversions from one type of mature cell to another – including transforming skin cells into brain cells.

Usually, converting human skin cells to functional brain cells in a dish takes around 50 days. The team found that adding either of the two molecules into a dish with the cells cuts the time taken to just 25 days.

The study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, was funded by the European Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), MRC, Swedish Research Council and Wellcome.

Dr Rob Buckle, Chief Science Officer at the MRC said: “Regenerative medicine is one of the most promising fields in biomedicine and a priority for the MRC. Pluripotent stem cells offer great potential for developing new treatments for a wide range of currently untreatable diseases so the discovery of the role these two molecules can play in improving the way we can make these cells, and how they can enhance the direct conversion of one mature cell-type to another of quite different function, represents real progress for the field.”

Professor Keisuke Kaji, an MRC Senior Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We have shown it is possible to boost reprogramming of diverse cell types using a single molecule. We hope this will stimulate further research to find other molecules that could have a similar – or even better – effect.”

Image caption: Skin cells becoming induced pluripotent stem cells.


  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Other
  • Strategic objectives: Repair and replacement
  • Locations: Edinburgh
  • Type: News article