What are IPS cells? IPS is an acronym for Induced Pluripotent Stem cells. The diagram above gives a visual summary of the process involved, but the exciting thing about this technology is that it seems to offer the creation of pluripotent cells without the destruction of human embryos!
If you need a reminder of the definition of pluripotent, I discussed it earlier (here), but the gist of it is this:
- Totipotent are very early stem cells that are only available extremely early in the embryo's development (1-3 days) -- so early that they are the kind of cells that create complete human beings -- like twins. Though they have the ability to produce every kind of cell, these stem cells are nearly impossible to obtain or control.
- Pluripotent stem cells are the cells of a blastocyst that develop at 5-14 days and are capable of producing more than 200 different kinds of different cell/tissue types. Because of this wide range of possibility, these are highly sought after but require embryo destruction to obtain. They are hard to control.
- Multipotent stem cells have already differentiated into specific tissue types as fetal, cord blood, adult cells. Because they are already differentiaed they are easier to control and can be obtained without embryo destruction.
But now comes IPS. They beauty of IPS is that it has promise for producing a wide array of cell-types without destroying an embryo. This process uses regular skin cells that are "induced" to produce pluripotent stem cells!
The promise of this research is great news for those of us who would love to have success at treating a wide variety of disease while also honoring the moral imperative to not destroy some living persons in order to help others.
Let's hope the news we've heard so far turns out to be as good, and promising, as it sounds.