An international team of scientists has discovered a new “fast and simple” technology that enables more efficient stem cells to be obtained for regenerative medicine, a technique that would be applicable in diseases in which cell loss or degeneration is suffered.
By introducing a molecule (the microRNA 203), the new protocol boosts, both in a living being and “in vitro”, the potential of stem cells to specialize in adult cells of different types, necessary in numerous muscle conditions or in alterations of the nervous system.
The research was led by the Cell Division and Cancer Group of the National Center for Oncological Research (CNIO) led by Marcos Malumbres, and several Spanish, Australian, and American centers participated in it, including the Genetic Expression Laboratory of the Salk Institute of United States, directed by the Spanish Juan Carlos Izpisúa.
The conclusions of the research, which was carried out for five years, appear this Thursday in the scientific journal The Embo Journal.
The first signatory of the study, the researcher María Salazar-Roa, explains that it is a “very simple” technology that can be replicated in any laboratory, and also states that cell reprogramming “to induced stem cells” is already common practice in thousands of laboratories around the world.
“But we found quality problems in these cells, which fail to develop the enormous potential that embryonic stem cells have,” explained the researcher, stressing that the technique they have now discovered helps to refine the protocols that already existed for improve the quality of stem cells that are generated in laboratories.
With greater potential, stem cells can be converted into any “specialized, mature and functional” cell type, Salazar-Roa has confirmed. “This is the ultimate goal of regenerative medicine, which would be applicable in diseases where cell loss or degeneration is suffered.”
The researchers would be able, with the new technique, to generate a state of “tabula rasa” in the stem cells, which would increase their capacity to specialize in different types of mature cells.
The CNIO recalls that one of the main limitations in the application of cellular therapies is the quality of the stem cells obtained in laboratories, which is hindering their use for therapeutic purposes, and has highlighted that the technique discovered by this team International allows to obtain more efficient cells.
The researchers located a molecule (microRNA 203) found in the earliest embryonic states – even before the embryo implanted in the maternal uterus – and found that adding it to the stem cells in the laboratory they were able to significantly improve its ability to become other cell types.
To corroborate it, they used stem cells of human and murine origin (rodents), in addition to mice that had been genetically modified, and the results, according to Salazar-Roa, have been “spectacular”.
The researcher indicates that the molecules (the microRNA) that are introduced into the stem cells are “commercial” and are easily acquired in laboratories, and she insists that this is a very simple technique that can be replicated in any laboratory.
In fact, the group of the Spanish Juan Carlos Izpisúa received samples of that molecule in their laboratory in the United States and incorporated it into their protocol to test it on the stem cells they had at their center and verified how it “notably” improved the effectiveness of those cells .
Salazar-Roa recalls that the discoveries of the British John B. Gurdon and the Japanese Shinya Yamanaka (who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for it) were more than a decade ago “a turning point” in showing that mature cells could be reprogrammed to later become other types of cells.
And he highlights that advanced therapies -based on genes, cells or tissues- represent a great opportunity to change the course “and even reverse” many diseases.
“What were conceptual advances before are now a clinical reality in many cases,” said the researcher, who stressed that the American Drug Administration Agency or the European Drug Agency guarantee the safety and reliability of these therapies, although all tests and control tests to ensure the absence of unwanted side effects last an average of about 10 years.
The research and the associated patent “lay the foundations for numerous projects with great potential,” said the researcher.
The study has been funded by several Spanish entities (the Spanish Association against Cancer, the La Caixa Foundation, the Community of Madrid, the Botín Foundation, the Santander Bank or the Ministry of Science and Innovation) and by numerous research centers and foundations from Australia, United Kingdom and the United States.