The process researchers use to generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)—a special type of stem cell that can be made in the lab from any type of adult cell—is time consuming and inefficient. To speed things up, researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham) turned to kinase inhibitors. These chemical compounds block the activity of kinases, enzymes responsible for many aspects of cellular communication, survival, and growth.
As they outline in a paper published September 25 in Nature Communications, the team found several kinase inhibitors that, when added to starter cells, help generate many more iPSCs than the standard method. This new capability will likely speed up research in many fields, better enabling scientists around the world to study human disease and develop new treatments.
"Generating iPSCs depends on the regulation of communication networks within cells," explained Tariq Rana, Ph.D., program director in Sanford-Burnham's Sanford Children's Health Research Center and senior author of the study. "So, when you start manipulating which genes are turned on or off in cells to create pluripotent stem cells, you are probably activating a large number of kinases. Since many of these active kinases are likely inhibiting the conversion to iPSCs, it made sense to us that adding inhibitors might lower the barrier."
According to Tony Hunter, Ph.D., professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and director of the Salk Institute Cancer Center, "The identification of small molecules that improve the efficiency of generating iPSCs is an important step forward in being able to use these cells therapeutically.