Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells
The stem cell group are using groundbreaking new technology, pioneered by 2012 Nobel prize winner Shinya Yamanaka and others, to turn cultured skin cells into stem cells. These cells, termed “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs) can theoretically be differentiated into any cell type in the body, making them an ideal source of cells for diseases affecting inaccessible tissues such as the eyes and brain. Since these iPSCs are derived from adult skin, they also bypass many ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cell research.
In collaboration with researchers in Oxford and Japan, scientists from the UCT stem cell group have established the first iPSCs from South African patients suffering from the inherited neurodegenerative disease Spinocerebellar ataxia type 7. These cells have been successfully differentiated into neurons and retinal cells, which have been used to investigate disease mechanisms in the laboratory.