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Scripps Researchers: Low Cancer Risk In Stem Cell Treatment

Reprogramming stem cells for use in human patients is unlikely to pass on cancer-causing mutations, meaning the key first step in using such cells as a treatment is safe, scientists at The Scripps Research Institute and J. Craig Venter Institute reported Friday.

The research, published in today's edition of the journal Nature Communications, is an important step in assessing the safety of using induced pluripotent stem cells in human patients. Because such stem cells can differentiate into any kind of cell in the body, they hold potential for repairing damage from injuries or diseases like Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis.

"We wanted to know whether reprogramming cells would make the cells prone to mutations," said Jeanne Loring, professor of developmental neurobiology at Scripps and co-leader of the study. "The answer is no."

To make an induced pluripotent stem cell, scientists must reprogram an adult cell — such as a skin cell — to express a different set of genes. That can be accomplished using viruses as delivery vehicles or with molecules called messenger RNAs.

The scientists assessed three popular methods of creating such stem cells for their potential to trigger cancer-causing mutations.

While the researchers noted some minor alterations, none of the methods led to significant mutations, according to Scripps. The researchers said they repeated the experiments two more times and again found no significant risk.

According to Scripps, there are some longer-term risks, as scientists have seen reprogrammed cells multiply in lab cultures later on.

Loring said the cells are checked for mutations before implantation into a patient, limiting the risk.

The study was funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, an Autism Speaks Fellowship, grants from the National Institutes of Health and their Center for Regenerative Medicine, the Tanner Foundation, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the New York Stem Cell Foundation and University City-based BioNano Genomics Inc.

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