For more than a decade, Dr. Peter Zandstra, the Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Bioengineering, has been working at the University of Toronto to increase the production of stem cells. To do this, he has been applying engineering principles to stem cell research. Starting with computer models of stem cell growth and differentiation (the process by which a stem cell matures into its final form), Dr. Zandstra has moved on to develop more sophisticated culture methods that fine-tune the micro-environments to guide the generation of the different cells types that make up the mature cells in our tissues.
In November Japanese researchers showed that adult human and mouse skin cells could be reprogrammed into stem cells similar to embryonic stem cells, which can be transformed into any type of cell. These cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), has the potential to be a major step forward in using stem cells to cure a variety of diseases. A major concern with using such stem cells (iPS) to treat disease has been the possibility that the retrovirus used to implant the cells might cause cancer, but now a group of Japanese scientists solved that problem.