Singapore scientists create stem cells from a drop of blood

DIY finger prick technique opens door for extensive stem cell banking
March 21, 2014

Finger prick blood isolation and treatment for cellular reprogramming (credit: Loh Yuin Han, Jonathan, A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology)

Scientists at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) have developed a method to generate human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) from a single drop of finger-pricked blood.

The method also enables donors to collect their own blood samples, which they can then send to a laboratory for further processing. The easy access to blood samples using the new technique could help recruit more donors (and more diverse donors), and could lead to the establishment of large-scale hiPSC banks, the scientists say.

The finger prick-derived hiPSCs were generated from different donors at high efficiency (100–600 colonies per milliliter of blood).

Current sample collection for reprogramming into hiPSCs include invasive measures such as collecting cells from the bone marrow or skin, which may put off many potential donors. HiPSCs can also be generated from blood cells, but large quantities of blood are usually required.

In a paper published online on the Stem Cell Translational Medicine journal, scientists at IMCB showed for the first time that single-drop volumes of blood are sufficient for reprogramming into hiPSCs. A patent has been filed for the innovation.

140311 Cell pictures (Loh YH)

Marker staining of hiPSCs (credit: Loh Yuin Han, Jonathan, IMCB)

Improved stem-cell banks

The accessibility of the new technique is further enhanced with a DIY sample collection approach. Donors can collect their own finger-pricked blood, which they can then store and send it to a laboratory for reprogramming. The blood sample remains stable for 48 hours and can be expanded for 12 days in culture. This extends the finger prick technique to a wide range of geographical regions for recruitment of donors with varied ethnicities, genotypes and diseases.

By integrating it with the hiPSC bank initiatives, the finger prick technique paves the way for establishing diverse and fully characterized hiPSC banking for stem cell research, the scientists say. Access to a wide range of hiPSCs could also replace the use of embryonic stem cells, which are less accessible.

The scientists were able to differentiate the hiPSCs reprogrammed from this finger prick technique into functional heart cells, according to Stuart Alexander Cook, Senior Consultant at the National Heart Centre Singapore and co-author of the paper. “This is a well-designed, applicable technique that can unlock unrealized potential of biobanks around the world for hiPSC studies at a scale that was previously not possible.”

Abstract of Stem Cells Translational Medicine paper

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from somatic cells of patients can be a good model for studying human diseases and for future therapeutic regenerative medicine. Current initiatives to establish human iPSC (hiPSC) banking face challenges in recruiting large numbers of donors with diverse diseased, genetic, and phenotypic representations. In this study, we describe the efficient derivation of transgene-free hiPSCs from human finger prick blood. Finger prick sample collection can be performed on a “do-it-yourself” basis by donors and sent to the hiPSC facility for reprogramming. We show that single-drop volumes of finger prick samples are sufficient for performing cellular reprogramming, DNA sequencing, and blood serotyping in parallel. Our novel strategy has the potential to facilitate the development of large-scale hiPSC banking worldwide.