19 October 2012

Cell Reprogramming: changing the world one cell at a time

Congratulations Professors Shinya Yamanaka and Sir Joyhn Gurdon.

Because, in Australia, the ratio of young to old people is projected to gradually shift towards a more aged population, there is a pressing need to understand complex age-related diseases such as  Alzheimers disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and arthritis. Even More important is to develop effective treatments to combat these ailments. However, studying and developing effective therapies for such diseases requires live diseased human cells (such as brain cells).  For the first time in history it is now possible to recreate unlimited amounts of any diseased cell type (such as neurons) in the dish from individuals who have demonstrated the development of a particular disease. This remarkable feat is achieved by reprogramming a small number of skin cells from such patients into so-called induced pluripotent stem cells, cells that have similar properties to the ethically more controversial “embryonic stem cells”, with the ability to grow indefinitely and generate every cell type of the human body. It is not surprising that cell reprogramming technology and induced pluripotent stem cells have been readily adopted by both medical research and the biopharmaceutical industry as powerful discovery tools and potential therapeutic agents.

This revolutionary breakthrough would not have been possible without the involvement of two remarkable scientists, Professors Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John Gurdon.  Both scientists have just been awarded a Nobel prize for their pioneering work on cellular reprogramming, a process via which ‘mature adult’ cells revert to such an early embryonic  state that they can give rise to a new embryo.

John Gurdon demonstrated the proof-of-principle of reprogramming by introducing adult frog nuclei into enucleated frog eggs, showing that the resulting cell could form a whole new being when implanted into a host frog.

Shinya Yamanaka extended this discovery by demonstrating that reprogramming could be brought about by introducing only four genes into adult cells.

Their  pioneering work is not only of great importance for our understanding of early development and  the molecular processes that determine “stemness”,  but  has also enabled the emergence of an entirely new research discipline with huge potential for stem cell research, understanding of human disease and indeed regenerative medicine.  Both Nobel prize winners stated that it is their wish to use the knowledge gained from reprogramming research to improve human health.

Cell Reprogramming Australia (CRA) , a not-for-profit umbrella organisation for scientists working on cell reprogramming,  also shares this vision and aims to synergistically interact with the many international and national stem cell research programs that have been initiated to further develop cell reprogramming technologies. Our hope is that CRA can be both a conduit and a catalyst for such collaborative reprogramming research within Australia, and be a valuable source of validated information about this exciting area of research to the general public.

These objectives are currently achieved through: 1) the CRA website (URL), which provides a platform for the exchange of information and reagents between reprogramming researchers, and provides a direct interface with the general public; 2) an annual workshop where national and international scientists are trained in the generation, culture and analysis of induced pluripotent stem cells;  and 3) an annual  conference “Frontiers in Cell Reprogramming” (the first to be held on May 6-7 2013).

CRA further closely interacts with national research initiatives such “Stem Cells Australia” and with the national stem cell core facility “Stemcore” that offers researchers a customised service for the generation or supply of induced pluripotent stem from a large range of diseases relevant to Australian medical research.

Cell Reprogramming Australia wishes to congratulate Professors Shinya Yamanaka and Sir John Gurdon for the award of the Nobel prize in Medicine and is extremely pleased that cell reprogramming has been acknowledged as an exciting and transformative area of biological research. We anticipate that this Nobel Prize announcement will give further impetus to the translation of cell reprogramming breakthroughs into improved health outcomes for patients.

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