What can heart cells generated from my blood tell me about my risk for disease—and about what drugs I should take if I get sick?
By David Ewing Duncan
Cellular Dynamics International
Why: Screening drugs on human heart cells will help researchers find treatments for cardiac problems and test drugs for toxic side effects.
Key innovation: Uses included pluripotent stems cells to make large numbers of heart cells for testing.
Cellular Dynamics uses induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which have the ability to develop into any cell type in the body, to produce large volumes of highly pure, fully functional human cells for use in drug development and screening. The iPS cells are created by genetically reprogramming cells taken from adult human tissue or blood to return to a state similar to that of human embryonic stem cells.
The company is already selling heart cells derived from its iPS cells to pharmaceutical companies like Roche, which is using them to screen drugs in development and rule out those with dangerous side effects.
iPS cells are virtually indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells, but because adult tissue is used to create them instead of embryos, the company will never face a shortage of material and can avoid the political controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells. In addition to its heart cells, the company is developing liver cells, neurons, and blood vessel cells.
Challenges and Next Steps:
By generating iPS cells from people with diverse ethnic backgrounds and genetic conditions, and from those who have reacted poorly to certain drugs, scientists can gain a better picture of how compounds will affect different people. Thomson and others have already created iPS cells from people with ALS, Down syndrome, and spinal muscular atrophy, among other disorders, and while it's not yet clear how well those cells reflect the specific diseases, early research is promising. If it succeeds, researchers hope to use iPS cells to study other disorders and develop drugs to treat them.