Think of pluripotent stem cells as master cells capable of maturing into any human cell they want.
In the past, embryonic stem cells were an intriguing prospect for researchers because of their pluripotency—the ability to become any type of cell in the human body. Today’s scientists and researchers use induced pluripotent stem cells, which are made from adult cells and programed—or induced—to become a specific type of cell.
“When we begin to understand the process leading up to why people get sick, we can then begin designing personalized treatments for people.”
Robert Barrett, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine at the F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel & Immunobiology Research Institute, is using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to study inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
How the process works
After drawing your blood, Barrett and his team can generate iPSCs and then instruct those iPSCs to form intestinal cells that are exact copies of those inside your intestine. The process takes about 5-6 months.
“Reprogramming a cell is achieved simply by following how nature does it,” says Barrett. “We use a cocktail of supplements, growth factors, and proteins that mimics what naturally happens in the body, and…presto!”
The newly created intestinal tissues, known as intestinal organoids, live on a small, microengineered Organ-Chip in Barrett’s lab—where they can be studied and tested for treating gastrointestinal diseases like IBD, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
“These iPSCs allow us to generate intestinal tissue that is a replica of the intestine from a specific patient,” says Barrett.
The benefits of research with iPSCs
Once the iPSCs mature into organoids, the research begins. One potential benefit of iPSCs is studying how diseases like IBD progress in the body.
“When we model disease in a dish, we want to examine the process leading up to why people get sick,” says Barrett. “When we begin to understand the process leading up to why people get sick, we can then begin designing personalized treatments for people.”
Read: Is It IBS or IBD?
Exciting possibilities abound
Imagine a nurse takes your blood sample. Your cells are then reprogrammed in a lab so potential drugs and other treatments can be tested on the new tissue, and as a result your doctor finds the right treatment for you without you having to try different treatments and risk the side effects—all because your own iPSCs were grown and studied on an Organ-Chip.
This is the future Barrett and his team hope to see.
“Your cells, your treatment,” says Barrett.