Getting a clearer view inside a normal cell is a critical part of understanding what goes wrong when disease sets things awry. At Saturday’s sub-group meeting on the biology of stem cells, the Allen Institute for Cell Science debuted the first group of human induced pluripotent stem cells designed to provide exactly that level of clarity.
Director of Stem Cells and Gene Editing Ruwanthi (Ru) Gunawardane explained how her group has been working with the molecular scissors of CRISPR/Cas9 technology to insert fluorescent tags of major cellular structures into these new cell lines. In the past, adding fluorescent proteins has involved flooding the cell, but these precise tags instead highlight exactly when and where specific structures exist at various stages in the cell’s life cycle.
The first five of these stem cell lines – which highlight details of the nucleus, mitochondria, microtubules, cell-to-cell junctions and adhesion — are available now through the Coriell Institute for Medical Research. Gunawardane says additional lines highlighting more structures will be added as they become available throughout 2017.
“This is a game changer for understanding the fundamentals of cell biology and seeing things in a normal cell that you may not have fully appreciated before,” she said. “The work is in its infancy because we’ve only been at this for about ten months. We plan to provide computational data tools to do your own query and analysis.”
The quality of imaging, she said, will make the difference between the cartoon-like illustrations in today’s textbooks and full three-dimensional imaging of each state of a cell’s cycle. Understanding where a structure should be and what it should look like at any given point in a cell’s life will give researchers fundamental insights into how cancer and other disease states change the cellular landscape.
“These lines create a powerful platform to identify the functions of genes, screen drugs, determine differentiation state and so much more,” she said.