The Scripps Research Institute scientists have developed a new method that would hasten the process of creating cells from human adult tissue, without the use of embryonic cells.
According to lead researcher Professor Sheng Ding, the new technique is 200 times more efficient, twice as fast as conventional methods and a lot more safer in transforming adult human cells into stem cells or "induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS).
"Both in terms of speed and efficiency, we achieved major improvements over conventional conditions," Nature quoted Dr Ding as saying.
"This is the first example in human cells of how reprogramming speed can be accelerated. I believe that the field will quickly adopt this method, accelerating iPS cell research significantly," Ding added.
During the study, Ding focused on manipulating a naturally occurring process in cells, in particular in a type of adult cell called fibroblasts, which give rise to connective tissue.
This naturally occurring process - called MET (mesenchymal to ephithelial cell transition) - pushes fibroblasts closer to a stem-cell-like state.
The team tested various drug-like molecules that can inhibit the TGFb (transforming growth factor beta) and the MEK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) pathways, known to be involved in the MET process.
They have discovered two chemicals ALK5 inhibitor SB43142 and MEK inhibitor PD0325901, which when used in combination were highly effective in promoting the transformation of fibroblasts into stem cells.
"This method is the first in human cells that is mechanism-specific for the reprogramming process," said Ding.
And the two-chemical technique bested the efficiency of the classic genetic method by 100 times, he added.
The findings appear in online issue of the journal Nature Methods.