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IIT Guwahati-led team achieves medical milestone: Skin cells transformed into pluripotent stem cells for regenerative therapy

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IIT Guwahati Leads in Producing Pluripotent Stem Cells from Skin Cells

GUWAHATI, August 16, 2023: In a monumental stride for regenerative medicine, a collaborative research effort led by the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IITG) has successfully transformed regular human skin cells into pluripotent stem cells. Spearheaded by Dr. Rajkumar Thummer, Assistant Professor at the Department of Biosciences & Bioengineering, IIT Guwahati, in conjunction with scientists from Christian Medical College, Vellore, this groundbreaking achievement holds immense promise for the field of stem cell therapy.

Dr. Thummer elucidates the foundational significance of stem cells, stating, “Our bodies consist of an array of specialized cells – nerve cells, heart cells, liver cells, and more, each with distinct functions. All these unique cells originate from stem cells that hold the potential to develop into specific functional cells. The absence of any specific cell type can lead to diseases or disorders. Stem cells can be programmed to develop into mature functional cells, which can then replace damaged cells.”

Traditionally, stem cells are extracted from embryos or adult human body parts like the brain or bone marrow. However, this approach poses ethical and practical challenges. To circumvent these limitations, scientists are exploring techniques to convert ordinary cells, such as skin or blood cells, into pluripotent stem cells. These programmable cells, known as Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs), can differentiate into various adult cell types, offering immense potential for patient-specific treatments with minimal risk of immune rejection.

The pioneering work of the IITG-CMC team draws inspiration from Prof. Shinya Yamanaka, the Nobel laureate who first demonstrated the conversion of mature cells into iPSCs. The team’s integration-free method employs genes like OCT3/4, SOX2, KLF4, L-MYC, LIN28, and a p53 shRNA to effectively transform skin cells into iPSCs.

These iPSCs exhibited versatility and maintained their genetic integrity, while also preserving their original DNA structure. Crucially, they were found to be free from bacterial contamination, bolstering their potential applicability in future therapies.

Dr. Thummer adds, “This achievement is a testament to the determination and endurance of our team. By generating iPSCs in Guwahati, we have opened up new opportunities for researchers to contribute to stem cell research.”

The potential applications of iPSCs in regenerative medicine are vast. They can be programmed into beta islet cells for diabetes treatment, blood cells for leukemia therapy, and neurons to address ailments such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

IIT Guwahati-led team achieves medical milestone: Skin cells transformed into pluripotent stem cells for regenerative therapy

India’s commitment to stem cell research is evident through initiatives like the Department of Health Research-Indian Council of Medical Research (DHR-ICMR), spanning two decades. Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati’s collaboration with CMC Vellore aligns seamlessly with these national efforts and positions India at the forefront of stem cell research.

Prof. Shaji Velayudhan from CMC, Vellore, underscores the impact of the research, stating, “The generation of iPSCs is a major step forward in the field of regenerative medicine. It will not only facilitate local research but also encourage collaborations on a national and international scale, ultimately benefiting patients.”

The research findings have been published in the journal Stem Cell Research, authored by Ms. Khyati Raina, Mr. Gaurav Joshi, Ms. Kirti Modak, Ms. Chitra Premkumar, Ms. Sweety Priyanka, Mr. Praveena Rajesh, Prof. Shaji Velayudhan, and Dr. Rajkumar P. Thummer.

As IIT Guwahati marks 25 years of excellence, its role as an incubator of innovation, research, and transformation shines brightly. With a commitment to pushing the boundaries of scientific discovery, this achievement serves as a testament to the institute’s dedication to pioneering advancements that hold the potential to revolutionize healthcare and reshape the medical landscape on a global scale.

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