January 13, 2011 ( – New research has shown that there may be problems after all with a stem cell breakthrough that was hailed recently as a solution to the embryonic stem cell conundrum. A team, led by stem cell scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and The Scripps Research Institute, found that the same genetic abnormalities that occur in human embryonic stem cell lines are found in induced pluripotent stem cell (IPSC) lines.

“Since genetic aberrations are often associated with cancers, it is vital that cell lines destined for clinical use are free from cancer-associated genomic alterations,” said senior author Jeanne F. Loring, PhD, professor and Director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute.

In 2007, Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, developed what he termed induced pluripotent stem cells, that is, cells that could, at least in theory, be changed into any type of tissue in the body.

This was hailed as the breakthrough the medical community was waiting for: stem cells that were as elastic as embryonic cells but that were derived exclusively from the body of the patient. It was hoped that the new pluripotent cells would also present a solution to the problem of immune system rejection found in treatments using embryo-derived or fetus-derived cells.

The researchers said that the new study, published this week in the journal Cell Stem Cell, highlight the need for frequent monitoring of pluripotent stem cells to assure their stability and clinical safety.

Both types of “human pluripotent cells,” those derived from embryos and IPSCs “had higher frequencies of genomic aberrations than other cell types,” said Louise Laurent, assistant professor in the UCSD Department of Reproductive Medicine and the lead researcher on the study. 

“Most strikingly, we observed a higher frequency of genomic duplications in hESCs and deletions in iPSCs, when compared to non-pluripotent samples.”

Pluripotent stem cells are sought after by medical researchers for their ability to become any cell type in the body. This has been the “holy grail” of researchers working on the creation of replacement organs and tissues who hope to cure a wide range of diseases and injuries.

Bioethics expert and author Dr. Dianne Irving responded to the new research saying that it is not surprising.

“Such findings are not really new, but it is good to see more studies addressing this obvious problem,” Irving said.

“It obviously matters because if these genetically abnormal cells are used as ‘therapies’ and injected into vulnerable and often desperate patients, the genetic mutations will cause and have caused serious immune rejection reactions in the patients.” 

“This means that not only will their diseases not be cured, but that they will be exacerbated by the introduction of cancer-causing agents.”

Adult stem cells, those derived from the patient’s own body, on the other hand, have enjoyed huge successes, with researchers growing new liver tissue in the lab, as well as whole organs. Recently, adult, also called “somatic” stem cells, were used to create a new trachea for a child who suffered from a genetic defect.


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