The journal Nature Methods recently announced their method of the year, and it is: induced pluripotency. Embryonic stem cells have the potential to be any type of cells, a characteristic known as pluripotency. In 2006 a researcher in Japan announced that he’d genetically reprogrammed mouse fibroblasts—a type of skin cell—to make them pluripotent. These so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPS cells, could now become any cell.
This news was met with shocked skepticism. But since then, scientists have replicated his results. And induced pluripotency has now become common enough that it’s allowing us to study basic biology and disease development and drug screening. This year, for the first time, scientists published studies on human diseases and drug responses using IPS cells.
The techniques still need to be refined, say commentators in the journal. And the availability of IPS cells neither obviates the need for embryonic stem cell research nor replaces human subjects. Still, the Nature Methods article concludes, “The use of these cells will prove only as limited as researchers’ rigorously guided creativity.”
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
[Scientific American is part of the Nature Publishing Group.]