In late November of this year, Jeju National University Professor Park Se Pil, in conjunction with the Seoul-based Mirae Biotech, announced that he had successfully created heart muscle cells from induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS).
First developed in 2006 by Kyoto University Professor Shinya Yamanaka and his research team, the procedure is seen as an alternative to embryonic stem cell research, which was previously banned due to ethical concerns. IPS has the ability to create 210 different organs and tissues of the human body.
Through a process called de-differentiation, a somatic cell (in this case a skin cell from a rat) is injected with four genes with lentiviral vectors, which penetrate the cytoplasm, causing the cell to reprogram into a stem cell.
“These somatic cells are de-differentiated into their original form. Once the cells mature it doesn’t differentiate any more, but with the four genes added it turns into its original form,” Park told The Jeju Weekly.
With this procedure it takes only eight days for the cells to transform into cardiomyocyte (heart) cells when the presence of a pulse is observed. The entire process from the injection of the genes to a fully developed heart cell occurs over 20 days, much faster than that of an embryonic stem cell.
Cell colonies that are not yet differentiated.
JNU is the third institution to have completed this procedure successfully (with Kyoto University in 2006 and the University of Wisconsin in 2007). Park has a 44 percent success rate, almost 10 times that of Yamanaka. The other scientific breakthrough developed was the ability to create and maintain the spherical shape of the cell. Previously, due to the inability to suspend the cell, it developed in to a dome shape.
“It was supposed to be a sphere, but the Japanese had it on a flat surface creating a hemisphere … but I lifted it to create a full sphere,” Park said.
Park added specific enzymes to the cell that allowed it to form correctly and he remarked nonchalantly that this was in fact, “very easy.”
The two most difficult aspects for Park were the injection of the four genes into the somatic cell, and then the preservation of the cell. Concerning the problem of the protection of the cell he remarked that this had been resolved due to a procedure on which he did not elaborate, saying only that they had an international patent on the process.
“My inspiration behind this was that the embryonic stem cells caused a lot of ethical problems [which was] seemingly the precedent of Professor Hwang, because of the use of eggs. Instead I sought to do this without the use of an ovum.”
Professor Hwang Woo Suk, formerly of Seoul National University, is partially credited for the ban on human embryonic stem cell research due to the fabrication of data and the unethical acquisition of human ova.
Nine years before the ban, Park had successfully created a heart cell from an embryonic stem cell, but said he did not feel as if the ban had acted as a setback, “but rather a motivation. For scientists it is one of the very important responsibilities to find ways to get things done without those ethical dilemmas. Because of the ban I was motivated,” he said.
The Ministry of Agriculture and the Jeju provincial government invested a total of 2.25 billion won into the project, which took over 2 years to complete.
There are high international expectations of this cutting-edge biotechnology, for it not only eliminates ethical concerns but also prevents the immune rejection of organs since the medical care will be utilizing the patients’ own somatic cells.
Park believes that this development will contribute to the industrialization of stem cells and will be used for cloning animals and to cure human diseases.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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