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Scientists make stem cell breakthrough

An Australian research team together with international scientists has discovered a new stem cell that can be programmed to become any part of the body.

The ramifications of the find mean that a transplant can be conducted by using the patient’s own cells, which can be made into organs and tissue.

The discoveries , published in the journal Nature  and Nature communications Thursday, is a breakthrough in stem cell research.

“These are remarkably useful cells, because you can apply them to several different areas of medicine,” Xinhua quoted molecular biologist Thomas Preiss, from the Australian National University, as telling Fairfax Media.

More than 50 researchers from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and South Korea worked in the study, known as Project Grandiose, which identified the pluripotent stem cell.

The new cell is considered a potential prototype for the mass production of therapeutic stem cells to treat a huge range of illnesses and injuries.

The findings are a major advance in stem cell science and could help usher in a new era of regenerative medicine, where a small sample of a patient’s cells could be used to grow new tissues and organs for transplant.

“This kind of work will speed up the development of treatments for many illnesses that currently have no cure,” said Professor Thomas Preiss from The John Curtin School of Medical Research.

Medical conditions such as blindness, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke and spinal cord injury will be major beneficiaries of the new find.

Professor Preiss and the team at ANU were part of the international consortium known as Project Grandiose, which mapped the detailed molecular process involved in the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).

Image Credit: Project Grandiose
Image Credit: Project Grandiose

The discovery that body cells can in principle be coaxed to become iPS cells led to the award of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2012. Since then there has been a surge in global research to better understand iPS cell reprogramming, as it might help avoid the ethically-sensitive use of embryo-derived cells.

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“The race is on to make reprogramming a safe and efficient process so that the resulting stem cells can be broadly applied in therapies,” Professor Preiss said.

“We have described in unprecedented detail the molecular changes that cells undergo as they reprogram into stem cells and also discovered a new kind of pluripotent cell that can be seen as a prototype for therapeutic cell production.”

Humans come from just one cell, the fertilised egg, and this cell contains within its DNA a series of instructions to make all of the different types of cells in the body.

“The new type of stem cell we identified and characterised is easier to grow and manipulate, which will aid in drug screening efforts and disease modelling in the laboratory,” he said.

Project Grandiose involved researchers in Australia, Canada, The Netherlands and South Korea and was led by Professor Andras Nagy at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.

Project Grandiose involved around 50 experts in stem cell biology and genomics technologies from leading laboratories, including scientists at ANU, The University of Sydney, University of Queensland, the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.


Hussein, S. M. I., Puri, M. C., Tonge, P. D. et al. Genome-wide characterization of the routes to pluripotency. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature14046

Tonge, P. D. et al. Divergent reprogramming routes lead to alternative stem-cell states. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature14047

Lee, D-S. et al. An epigenomic roadmap to induced pluripotency reveals DNA methylation as a reprogramming modulator. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6619

Benevento, M. et al. Proteome adaptation in cell reprogramming proceeds via distinct transcriptional networks. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6613

Jennifer L. Clancy, Hardip R. Patel, Samer M. I. Hussein, Peter D. Tonge, Nicole Cloonan, Andrew J. Corso. Small RNA changes en route to distinct cellular states of induced pluripotency. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 5522 doi:10.1038/ncomms6522

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