IITG-CMC team introduces specific genes into skin cells to form iPSCs

iPSCs hold potential in stem cell therapy for the treatment of diseases like diabetes, cancer, paralysis, and Alzheimer’s

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IITG), under the leadership of Dr Rajkumar Thummer, in collaboration with scientists from Christian Medical College, Vellore, have reported a method to convert regular human skin cells into pluripotent stem cells.

Explaining the basics of stem cells, Dr Rajkumar P Thummer, Assistant Professor, Department of Biosciences & Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati, said, “The human body is made of many kinds of cells – nerve cells, heart cells, liver cells, pancreatic cells, and so on, with unique structures and functions. All these distinctive cells originate from stem cells to perform a specific function. Lack of any of these cell types in the human body will result in a disease or disorder. Thus, stem cells can be programmed to develop into mature functional cells, which can be used to replace damaged cells.”

Stem Cells have to be extracted from embryos or parts of the adult human body like the brain or bone marrow, which is challenging from both ethical and practical aspects. Thus, scientists are exploring techniques to convert ordinary cells, like skin or blood cells, into pluripotent stem cells – stem cells that can be programmed to develop into any other form of an adult cell type. These cells are called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs). The most important advantage of iPSCs is their potential to produce patient-specific cells which can be transplanted to the site of injury or the site of tissue degeneration due to various disease conditions, thereby, eliminating any chance of immune rejection.

The conversion of mature cells into iPSCs was first shown by Prof Shinya Yamanaka, who won the Nobel Prize in 2012 for his discovery. This research involved introducing specific genes into mature cells to convert them into iPSCs. Dr Thummer and his colleagues have used a safe, integration-free method, and have introduced genes such as OCT3/4, SOX2, KLF4, L-MYC, LIN28 and a p53 shRNA into skin cells to transform them into iPSCs.

The iPSCs produced by the IITG and CMC researchers were versatile, maintained their genetic makeup well, and could potentially differentiate into a range of body cell types. Additionally, tests confirmed that the DNA structure of the cells was not altered and matched that of the original cells. Importantly, these iPSCs were found to be free from bacterial contamination.

Dr Thummer added, “This achievement is a testament to the determination and endurance of our team. By generating iPSCs in Guwahati, we have opened up new opportunities for researchers to contribute to stem cell research.”

iPSCs are useful for the design of stem-cell therapies for a range of ailments. iPSCs can be programmed to become beta islet cells to treat diabetes, blood cells to treat leukaemia, or neurons to treat disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Given the importance and potential of stem cells, the Government of India actively supports stem cell research through the Department of Health Research-Indian Council of Medical Research (DHR-ICMR). This commitment spans two decades and includes initiatives such as advanced research centres, thematic task forces, and iPSC generation. The collaboration between IIT Guwahati and CMC Vellore aligns seamlessly with these efforts and India’s endeavour to be at the forefront of stem cell research.

Prof Shaji Velayudhan, Collaborator from CMC, Vellore, said, “The generation of iPSCs is a major step forward in the field of regenerative medicine. It will not only facilitate local research in the North East of the country but also encourage collaborations with national and international institutions, ultimately benefitting patients in the region.”

The research paper has been published in the journal Stem Cell Research, authored by Khyati Raina, Gaurav Joshi, Kirti Modak, Chitra Premkumar, Sweety Priyanka, Praveena Rajesh, Prof Shaji Velayudhan and Dr Rajkumar P Thummer.


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