Stem cell breakthrough spurs a new Langer start-up

A group of leading stem cell researchers has developed mRNA molecules that can be used to efficiently reprogram a cell, transforming it into an induced pluripotent stem cell that can be used to create new organs and tackle tough diseases. The molecules spur the production of four proteins needed to create the iPS cell. And the researchers say this breakthrough approach is not only much safer than earlier methods used in the field, it is also 100 times more efficient in half the time.

"If you put all these things together, several of the major hurdles toward clinical translation of iPS cells are addressed by this technology," Derrick Rossi, an investigator at Children's Hospital Boston, tells the Washington Post. "That's what we've very excited about."

With a keen eye to the commercial potential for this kind of technology, Rossi joined with MIT's prolific Robert Langer, who has spawned a long lineup of biotechs, and Harvard Medical School's Kenneth Chien to form ModeRNA Therapeutics with backing from Flagship Ventures.

The news from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute team comes at a time when federal support for embryonic stem cell work has been thrown into disarray by an injunction--which was recently lifted--banning the government's support for research work in the field. But despite the advance, NIH chief Francis Collins says it's far too early to shift away from ESCs. Scientists still need to be able to compare ESCs with the new iPS cells as they move forward.

"Our technology does not alter the DNA of the host cells, so completely eliminates the risks associated with DNA-based vectors, which can integrate into the cell's DNA and possibly lead to cancer," adds Rossi.

"If repeatable, it would solve some of the most important problems in the field," says Advanced Cell Technology's Robert Lanza.

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