Unprecedented cooperation 'cracks' cell programming

15 December 2014

An international consortium including Prof. Albert Heck from Utrecht University has uncovered the molecular events underlying the biological processes of the creation of stem cells from specialized (e.g. skin) cells, a process called cellular reprogramming. The team also discovered a new type of stem cells termed F-class that have unique properties compared to the previously known stem cell types. This opens up new avenues for generating useful “designer” cells, which might not necessarily exist in the body or during development but could be safer and more efficient when used for drug evaluation in personalized therapy. This research was co-financed through the partly NWO-funded Roadmap programme Proteins@Work.

The importance and anticipated impact of this research is supported by the unprecedented coordinated publication of 5 scientific articles in Nature and Nature Communications on Dec 11, 2014.

The research project involved a collaboration of 27 expert key researchers in stem cell biology, proteomics, epigenetics and RNA biology. ‘This is the first time a integrative biology study was carried out so comprehensively. Our team has catalogued every major biological checkpoint of the reprogramming process, identifying which combination of genes and proteins, and modifications thereof, are associated with each step. By doing this, I truly believe you can say we cracked the programming of the cell’, says Dr. Albert Heck, Professor of Biomolecular Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics at Utrecht University. 

Stem cells

New stem cells

The extremely in depth analysis of the process of reprogramming specialized cells into stem cells focused on learning how to control the paths to either the new F-class stem cell versus “traditional”, embryonic-like stem cells. Comparing the two cell types revealed that the new class of stem cells is easier, less expensive and faster to grow compared with the embryonic-like stem cells. Because of these properties, the new “F-class” stem cells can be produced more economically in very large quantities, which will speed up drug screening efforts, disease modelling and eventually the development of treatments for different illnesses.

Clinical Implications


Molecule analysis

Stem cells hold promise for future medicine aiming to treat and cure currently incurable diseases such as blindness, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, spinal cord injury, stroke, diabetes, blood and kidney diseases, which are associated with tissue damage and cell loss. The uncovered detailed knowledge of cellular reprogramming will help to better understand this process, which is critical to generating safe and highly efficient sources for therapeutic cell production.

This research was funded by many sources, but in the Netherlands specifically by the Netherlands Proteomics Centre, by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) funded large-scale proteomics facility  Proteins@Work and by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme for the PRIME-XS project.

Source: NWO