£4M to further understand reprogramming of cells

15 December 2015

Dr Keisuke Kaji, researcher at the University of Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM), has been awarded a £4M Fellowship Award by the Medical Research Council.

The seven year project ‘Genome-wide exploration of reprogramming mechanisms using CRISPR/Cas9 and DamID technologies’ will focus on a further understanding of the reprogramming technique whereby specialised tissue cells in the body are manipulated in such a way that they become induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), cells that can go on to form any specialised type of cell in the body.

Dr Keisuke Kaji in lab
Dr Keisuke Kaji in the lab

The technique, first developed by Nobel Laureate Prof Shinya Yamanaka in 2006, has huge potential. In theory the technique can be used for the production of any desired cell type for transplantation treatments, screening new drugs, toxicology tests, etc.

However, to this date making iPS cells by artificially manipulating 4 genes is not very efficient. The process of reprogramming takes over one month and is expensive. Thus, the technology needs further development before delivering its full potential to society. In addition, researchers still do not know why the manipulation of only 4 genes induces pluripotency. If we can understand how cells become iPS cells, we could use the obtained knowledge to generate the desired specialised cell types, such as blood cells or nerve cells. Currently this is one of the limiting factors in developing cell based regenerative medicine treatments.

In this project Dr Keisuke Kaji and his laboratory team at CRM will aim to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of reprogramming using state-of-the-art molecular biology techniques such as CRISPR/Cas9 and DamID.

Dr Kaji said:

I’m delighted and honoured to be supported by the Medical Research Council.

The funding helps us to unravel the mechanisms underpinning the reprogramming technique. At the end of our project we hope to be able to generate iPS cells with a much higher efficiency and in a much shorter time period.

We have about 300 different cell types in our body, but can generate only a few of them in the laboratory today. We have evidence that some of the molecular manipulations used to generate iPS cells can also be used to make specialised cells more efficiently. We aim to understand how to control cell characteristics and make useful cell types for medical applications.

The project will run from 1 January 2016 – 31 December 2022. It will support salary costs for Dr Keisuke Kaji and three postdoctoral researchers, and will provide money to carry out laboratory experiments at CRM.



Name                                    Robin Morton

Organisation                     MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Science Communication Manager

Telephone                         0131 651 9500

Email                                   robin.morton@ed.ac.uk