The hottest thing in stem cells right now is induced pluripotency, i.e., converting somatic cells back into pluripotent cells by introducing a few stem cell-specific genes (or even the encoded proteins). Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) harvested from a donor’s skin would be automatically immunologically matched; furthermore, they completely circumvent some of the “ethical” and supply issues raised when using embryonic stem cells.

The process is slow and inefficient — but happily, an inexpensive and ubiquitous compound you might be familiar with can help boost both speed and efficiency:

Vitamin C Enhances the Generation of Mouse and Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Somatic cells can be reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) by defined factors. However, the low efficiency and slow kinetics of the reprogramming process have hampered progress with this technology. Here we report that a natural compound, vitamin C (Vc), enhances iPSC generation from both mouse and human somatic cells. Vc acts at least in part by alleviating cell senescence, a recently identified roadblock for reprogramming. In addition, Vc accelerates gene expression changes and promotes the transition of pre-iPSC colonies to a fully reprogrammed state. Our results therefore highlight a straightforward method for improving the speed and efficiency of iPSC generation and provide additional insights into the mechanistic basis of the reprogramming process.

If it really is true that vitamin C (ascorbate) is acting by blocking senescence, then there will be other paths to improving the efficiency of iPS generation, including rapamycin, which also blocks senescence. Compounds other than ascorbate will almost certainly be more expensive, but on the other hand, ascorbate probably won’t prevent all types of senescence. Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant, and it’s a good bet that it prevents induction of senescence by oxidative damage — but that’s not the only way senescence is induced. Combining a number of methods to block senescence will likely have a synergistic effect, helping us get closer to 100% efficiency.

Beyond that, all I have to say is that this is a damn handy result. Nice that it’s something so cheap and readily available.

ResearchBlogging.orgEsteban, M., Wang, T., Qin, B., Yang, J., Qin, D., Cai, J., Li, W., Weng, Z., Chen, J., & Ni, S. (2010). Vitamin C Enhances the Generation of Mouse and Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Cell Stem Cell, 6 (1), 71-79 DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2009.12.001