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  • Scientists were able to demonstrate how the cell reprogramming process creates stem cells from skin cells. (Photo : Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

    In the latest on stem cell research, scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles were able to demonstrate how to create stem cells from skin cells. Their study not only helps understand the different mechanisms at work during the change of skin cells to stem cells but also identify factors that will speed up the reprogramming process.

    Stem cells or pluripotent cells are cells that do not have a specific role in the body and can be turned into any specific cell type. Inducing pluripotent cells or man-made stem cells was first created by scientists using skin or blood cells showing how these cells can be taken out of the human body and reprogrammed back into their pluripotent states.

    Creating stem cells from skin cells or blood cells involves a process called cell reprogramming. During this process, transcription factors are used to deactivate the skin cells’ identity and activate pluripotency. The scientists want to understand how these transcription factors, Oct4, Sox2, Klf4, and cMyc (OSKM), influence cell reprogramming as these factors do not normally function as suppressors.

    The scientists share the details of their study in the journal Cell, in which they performed loss- and gain-of-function experiments to map out the step-by-step processes involved in cell reprogramming. They also mapped out how the transcription factors influence and suppress skin cells functions thereby reprogramming them back into stem cells.

    The study found that three of the four transcription factors have dominant roles in cell reprogramming. These transcription factors bind to the skin cell early in the stage of reprogramming and also immediately initiates the suppression of the skin cell identity.

    Moreover, the OSK transcription factors need to work together in which the scientists call a collaborative binding to locate and target sites in the skin cell to reprogram the cell back to the pluripotent state.

    By using their data collected during their loss- and gain-of-function experiments, the scientists then predicted which other transcription factors can be used to speed up the cell reprogramming process. They found that by adding a fifth transcription factor, the cell reprogramming process was able to more effectively deactivate skin cell functions.

    The combination of these new factors then accelerated and improved the transition of the skin cell to stem cells and ultimately sped up the reprogramming process by a hundredfold.

    By identifying the functions of the transcription factors and accelerating the cell reprogramming process, the scientists are making the use of stem cells a more efficient and viable option in combatting many deadly diseases. Furthermore, the study also opens the avenue to explore other processes that will induce the pluripotent states in other types of cell.


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