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This Month In Stem Cells

The last month has brought a flurry of activity in the stem cell arena. Here are some selected bits of news for those keeping track:

On September 30th, a Boston-based team led by Harvard Medical School’s Derrick J. Rossi reported that it had developed a new way to reprogram adult stem cells into induced pluripotent stem cells, an embryonic stem cell-like state with the potential to be converted to many types of cells and tissues (Cell Stem Cell publication). And the researchers behind the technique have spun out a new startup, ModeRNA Therapeutics, to commercialize it, with backing from Flagship VentureLabs (press release).

Most of the techniques for generating these blank-slate cells permanently alter the cell genome. (The perhaps most well-known technique uses a virus to integrate additional genes into cells’ chromosomes.) In contrast, Rossi’s method uses synthetically modified messenger RNA molecules for reprogramming. The synthetic RNA’s don’t integrate into the cells’ genetic material.

ModeRNA’s founding team includes Rossi, Kenneth Chien, who leads the Massachusetts General Hospital Cardiovascular Research Center, and MIT biochemist Robert Langer, Xconomy reports.

Across the continent at Fate Therapeutics, researchers are also hard at work on reprogramming adult cells. Today they announced a deal with Becton Dickinson to jointly develop and commercialize its own induced pluripotent stem cell technology (press release). One of Fate’s scientific founders is chemist Sheng Ding, who is a leader in finding small molecules to manipulate cells and understand stem cell biology. Here’s a cover story by C&EN’s Sarah Everts that puts Ding’s work into the wider context of the stem cell field.

The first government-approved clinical trial to test a therapy developed from human embryonic stem cells is now underway. Geron Corp. has begun testing an embryonic stem-cell treatment on an Atlanta patient with spinal cord injuries, according to the Associated Press.

Finally, a promising young Harvard Medical School stem-cell researcher has retracted a January 2010 2009 Nature paper which suggested that some unknown factor from the blood of young mice helped blood-forming stem cells in older mice act young once again. (hat tip to Retraction Watch).

UPDATE 3:34PM 10/14 Updated year of retracted paper.
UPDATE 4:06PM 10/14 Retraction Watch is reporting that the journal Blood has issued a ‘notice of concern’ (a potential harbinger of a retraction) for a 2008 paper by the same group that published the retracted Nature work.

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