Research rundown: conditional cell reprogramming has the potential to change medicine and research

Mar 16, 2017
Research rundown: conditional cell reprogramming has the potential to change medicine and research

The claim

A new technique of cell culturing could revolutionize healthcare.

The science

To better understand how a new medicine works in humans, scientists rely on cell lines created in laboratories or cell samples taken from patients. These samples are then exposed to the new therapy and researchers record how the cells react.

Although this method can help clarify how a therapy works, it can take a long time to create these cell cultures and, even then, the number of cells are limited.

A new method of producing cell cultures developed at Georgetown University, called conditional reprogramming (CR), helps remedy this issue as it creates immortal cell samples derived from patients.

This ability to create large populations of ever-replicating cells in a much shorter period than normal means researchers can screen multiple treatments in a specific cell population more rapidly.

The method

The process involves taking healthy and diseased cells from an individual and placing them in a CR environment. This environment includes mouse cells, which act as ‘feeder cells’ to help them grow, and a chemical inhibitor which causes them to ‘reprogram’ into adult stem cells.

By their nature, stem cells are undifferentiated, i.e. they have few defining features. They also multiply rapidly.

Once these cells are removed from a CR environment and placed in a normal one, the cells return to their original form, therefore, their reprogrammed state is considered conditional.

Until now, the reason behind CR creating immortal cells had not been fully understood. In this new study, the team discovered 14 distinct proteins produced by the feeder cells that lead to the creation of stem cells from patient cell samples and their eventual multiplication.

The potential

CR has been lauded as a technique with high potential since it was first described by Richard Schlegel and his colleagues of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

As the technique creates endless stem cells that can be conditionally transformed into their original source form, CR can give researchers effectively a never-ending supply of specific human cell samples.

This can aid in the creation of personalized treatment regimens as researchers can continue to test multiple medicines on normal and diseased cell cultures obtained from specific individuals.

In an independent study at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, the technique was used to identify an effective therapy for a patient with a rare type of lung cancer in the space of one week1.

Researchers at Yale University have also used CR to identify two potential new therapeutic targets in adenoid cystic carcinoma – a type of cancer that commonly affects the major and minor salivary glands of the head and neck2.

The method is cited as a technology in the Precision Medicine Initiative in Oncology to help develop new laboratory models for research3.

The source

Xuefeng Liu, Ewa Krawczyk, Frank Suprynowicz, Nancy Palechor-Ceron, Hang Yuan, Aleksandra Dakic, Vera Simic et al. Conditional reprogramming and long-term expansion of normal and tumor cells from human biospecimens. Nature Protocols 2017; 12 (2): 439-451.


  1. Hang Yuan, Scott Myers, Jingang Wang, Dan Zhou, Jennifer Woo, Bhaskar Kallakury, Andrew Ju, et al. Use of Reprogrammed Cells to Identify Therapy for Respiratory Papillomatosis. New England Journal of Medicine 2012; 367 (13): 1220.
Research rundown: conditional cell reprogramming has the potential to change medicine and research

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