Calgary scientists make stem cell breakthrough
CALGARY - Calgary scientists say they have revolutionized stem cell production and have found a way to create the super cells without the risk of cancer.
A pair of researchers at the University of Calgary have created a device that allows them to produce millions of cells which can then be reprogrammed to make stem cells.
Dr. Derrick Rancourt and Dr. Roman Krawetz say they have perfected a new bioreactor technology that allows them to make millions of pluripotent stem cells much more quickly than ever before.
Pluripotent stem cells come from two main sources; embryos and adult cells that have been reprogrammed by scientists.
Scientists turn on four specific genes to reprogram the cells into stem cells which results in pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells.
Pluripotent stem cells have the potential to differentiate into almost any cell in the body.
"The even better news is, we made these stem cells without introducing the cancer gene at all," says Rancourt, co-author of the research, published in the May issue of the prestigious journal Nature Methods. "These stem cells are an outstanding alternative to embryonic stem cells."
Up until now, scientists were limited in their research because it usually takes one million adult cells to make a single stem cell and the resulting stem cells are much more likely to cause cancer.
"Scientists can make a whole mouse from iPS cells," says Krawetz. "The challenge they face is, within two years, the mouse gets cancer."
The U of C team has found a way around those limitations.
"We are the first team to prove that we can use the bioreactor to efficiently make stem cells that then become mice without cancer," says Krawetz.
The bioreactor is similar to a small, slow-moving blender, in which the cells are fed nutrients, like sugar, protein and fat, and oxygen in a carefully controlled, sealed flask.
Using the bioreactor, scientists were are able to make 10 million safe stem cells from about 800,000 adult cells in just 12 days.
"Now that we can generate safe stem cells in the millions, we are putting human cells into our bioreactors with a focus on designing new treatments for arthritis," says Rancourt. "We can use these cells to make bone and cartilage. Currently, we are working with our colleagues in biomedical engineering, and with industry, to shift our focus into regenerative medicine."
The research is being funded by Alberta Innovates -- Health Solutions, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Arthritis Society.