Young-sup Yoon, MD, PhD, was honored March 7 at the seventh annual “Celebration of Technology and Invention” hosted by the Emory Office of Technology Transfer. This event recognizes successful technologies and inventions from the past year. Yoon, a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology, received Emory University’s Innovation of 2012 award for his technology entitled “Generation of Transgene-free Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells from Somatic Cells by Small Molecule Chemicals.” Yoon’s technology was selected by a panel of judges from both Emory and the Southeastern biotech community.
Stem cell medicine has been identified as a treatment for a number of conditions including heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, stroke, and cancer; however, obtaining embryonic tissues and isolating relatively rare cell types have limited the large-scale production of populations of pure stem cells. The development of chemically induced pluripotent stem (CiPS) cells provides a patient with a copious, immune-matched supply of pluripotent cells and eliminates ethical issues associated with the production of embryonic stem cells. Current methods used to generate induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from somatic cells require overexpression of transcription factors using lentiviral vectors. Unfortunately, this approach involves both viral integration and the use of foreign genes, including genes that could cause cancer. In fact, over 20% of these derived iPS cells develop tumors. In addition, the acquisition of parent cells involves invasive surgical procedures, long-term in vitro manipulation, and possible additional steps to ensure decontamination. This technology describes the use of a unique cocktail of small molecules that can functionally replace exogenous transcription factors to alter gene expression and generate pluripotent cells. The differentiation capacity of the CiPS cells into cell types of all three embryonic germ layers using this technology was similar to embryonic stem cells found in mice. This method will make current and future treatments using stem cells more feasible and affordable.