By Grant Banks
Harvesting samples for producing stem cells can be rather painful. Techniques can involve collecting large amounts of blood, bone marrow or skin scrapes. The reality is intrusive measures such as these can be very off-putting. But what if it was as simple as a finger-prick? Such a DIY approach, which is so easy it can be done at home or in the field without medical staff, has been developed by researchers at Singapore’s A*STAR Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB).
Unlike previous techniques that require comparatively large cell samples, the ICMB team has managed to successfully reprogram mature human cells into hiPSCs with high efficiency using less than a single drop of blood. Pluripotent stem cells are important in many forms of medical research and treatment as they have the potential to become any other cell type in the body.
“It all began when we wondered if we could reduce the volume of blood used for reprogramming,” says Dr Loh Yuin Han Jonathan, Principal Investigator at IMCB. “We then tested if donors could collect their own blood sample in a normal room environment and store it. Our finger-prick technique, in fact, utilized less than a drop of finger-pricked blood.”
It is hoped that this much less invasive method of sample collection will help attract more donors to increase the samples available to researchers. Blood samples have been found to remain viable for 48 hours after collection and in culture this can be extended to 12 days, opening up remote areas for potential cell harvesting. This could benefit research and treatment with the recruitment of donors with varied ethnicities, genotypes and diseases now possible. It is hoped the technique will also lead to the establishment of large-scale hiPSC banks.
“We were able to differentiate the hiPSCs reprogrammed from Jonathan’s finger-prick technique, into functional heart cells,” says Dr Stuart Alexander Cook, Senior Consultant at the National Heart Centre Singapore and co-author of the paper. “This is a well-designed, applicable technique that can unlock unrealized potential of biobanks around the world for hiPSC studies at a scale that was previously not possible.”