New approach to generate naive pluripotent stem cells described

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Since being published a few days ago, a new manuscript on the generation of pluripotent stem cells made quite an impact across the stem cell community. What is the fuss all about?

Dr. Jennifer Nicholls and colleagues at the Wellcome Trust – Medical Research Council Stem Cell Institute and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience published a report in Stem Cell Reports describing deriving functional embryonic stem cells from human blastocysts.

Up until now, deriving naive pluripotent stem cells had been possible, however these cells, as reported extensively, are already primed to differentiate into specific tissues.

The authors isolated cells from the blastocyst by separating them from placental and yolk sac cells. By culturing these cells separately, they found that the cells retained diploid karyotype and fully naive properties.

By looking at these cells’ gene expression, the authors demonstrate that they represent true naive pluripotent stem cells.

Diagram showing protocol for generating naive pluripotent stem cells from human blastocysts (taken from Nichols et al. 2016)

So what is the potential impact of this paper and why is it significant? Firstly, the ability to generate pluripotent stem cells is one of the frontiers of cell therapy. While synthetically feasible, most methods do not generate truly naive pluripotent stem cells, by favoring cells with predetermined fates. Secondly, translating many of these methods to human cells is still marked by significant technical difficulties, and the resultant cells have deficiencies associated with the states of pluripotency. The approach described here represents a preliminary evaluation and there is much work to be done to ascertain the feasibility of these cells in both ex and in vivo settings that will test their functionality, but it is an interesting approach to learn about.

You can read the manuscript here.

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