£1.8M for novel synthetic factors to improve iPS technology

6 May 2016

Human fibroblasts (left) reprogrammed into iPSCs (right).
Human fibroblasts (left) reprogrammed into iPSCs (right).

Dr Abdenour Soufi, a Chancellor’s fellow and junior group leader at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM), received a prestigious Medical Research Council (MRC) Career Development Award (CDA) earlier today.

The £1.8M (80% funded by the Medical Research Council) was awarded to engineer novel synthetic factors to reprogram cell identity.

Cellular Reprogramming is a new technology that allows the conversion of human adult cells such as skin to any other specialised cells in the body. This has great potential in regenerative medicine as it will provide an unlimited source of functional cells to replace damaged or diseased tissue, bringing personalised cell-replacement therapies one step closer to reality.

Scientists can already reprogram biopsied human cells to become induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) in the laboratory based on the discovery made by Takahashi and Yamanaka in 2006. These iPSCs are pluripotent, which means they can give rise to all cell types of the body.

Dr Abdenour Soufi said:

The current iPS technology uses genes called transcription factors (TFs) that are highly inefficient in reprogramming adult cells and have been associated with tumours. This makes the technology quite risky and unreliable to use in human patients.

The funding is used to build a multi-disciplinary research group, which will bring together expertise from fundamental and translational stem cell research at CRM and synthetic biology at the UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology (SynBio). Research will focus on engineering novel reprogramming factors. Firstly, the team of scientists will define which parts of natural TFs that are essential for reprogramming. These parts will then act as building blocks to design novel factors that are more potent in reprogramming.

Dr Abdenour Soufi:

I am very grateful to have received this fellowship from the MRC. This is a very exciting phase of our research and the support and funding provided by the MRC will make it possible for us to develop novel methods to reprogram cells in an effective and safe way. I believe this is essential if we want to generate the quantity and the quality of cells required for therapeutic purposes.