Improving Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Differentiation

Much of the research conducted in Professor Janet Zoldan’s lab focuses on harnessing the power and potential of human induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs). These are powerful cells that can be produced from a patient’s own cells. They hold great potential in the fields of disease modeling, developmental studies, and regenerative medicine. IPSCs represent an unlimited source of cells that can be differentiated to behave like any other cell in the body, which means they could be used to replace cells and tissue lost to disease.

One challenge in creating IPSCs is that a small of number of cells remain undifferentiated, meaning they do not program into a specific kind of cell. However, they still possess fast growth potential, and because of this are likely develop into a teratoma, or a stem cell-associated tumor.

Chengyi Tu, a graduate student from Dr. Zoldan’s lab, has discovered a way to selectively kill these undifferentiated cells, while keeping the differentiated cells, which he describes in a recent paper in Stem Cell Research.

In the paper, Tu describes the fundamental science behind combining two non-toxic compounds that have been used in other, separate human studies. When glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) is used with a non-toxic antioxidant such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC), the combination kills off undifferentiated stem cells.

The implication is that using this combination of two normally non-toxic compounds could prevent teratoma formation, and potentially improve the safety of future uses of IPSCs. Future studies will focus on discovering how these two components may affect other stem cell types, such as cancer stem cells.