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The Art in Science

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Maria Morrell, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan Medical School

Induced pluripotent stem cells represent a relatively recent and extremely powerful addition to the toolbox of investigators who wish to study human disease and seek new therapies. Essentially, this technology allows researchers to take a skin biopsy from a patient, place it in a culture dish in the laboratory and add factors/chemicals that force the cells to “forget” their skin identity and start behaving like embryonic stem cells (cells that, as in the embryo, are pluripotent, meaning that they can give rise to any cell type in the body). Once in this “undifferentiated” state, the cells can be further manipulated to make any desired cell type; in this image, a colony of stem cells is differentiating into neurons (nerve cells, green) and astrocytes (supporting cells, orange).