FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)

iPSCs

1. What are iPSCs? 

iPSCs is the acronym of “induced pluripotent stem cells”. They are a new type of pluripotent stem cells generated from somatic (differentiated) cells in the lab. iPSCs are pluripotent, meaning that they can develop into any cell types of the body. iPSCs are capable of self-renewing, meaning that they can proliferate unlimitedly. These two properties make iPSCs a renewable cell source of great potential for cell transplantation in medical applications. Learn more 

2. Where are iPSCs from?

Unlike the traditional pluripotent stem cells such as the ethically controversial embryonic stem cells that are established from early human embryo, iPSCs are “man-made” pluripotent stem cells generated in the lab and thus overcome the ethical issue haunting the embryonic stem cells. As demonstrated originally by Professor Shinya Yamanaka and colleagues, somatic cells such as fibroblasts could be converted into pluripotent stem cells through introduction of four genes (or four reprogramming factors), which are now aptly named as “Yamanaka factors”. This major scientific breakthrough won Yamanaka Nobel prize for Physiology/Medicine in 2012. Using such technology, personalized iPSCs can be generated for an interested individual. Using such customized iPSCs, completely matched cell transplant can be derived for an individual to overcome immune rejection, another issue haunting cell transplantation application.

3. What are the likely medical applications of iPSCs?

Typically, iPSCs are first generated from somatic cells of a patient. These iPSCs are converted (differentiated) into functional cells that are relevant to the diseases or conditions being treated. These iPSC-derived functional cells are then transplanted back to the patient to replace deficient cells and restore function in the form of regenerative medicine. Ongoing clinical trials in Japan and other countries are using iPSC-derived cells to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD), heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, corneal damage and graft-verse-host disease.

In CytoMed, the parent company of IPSCBank, iPSCs are being used to generate potent “cancer-killing” cells, γδ NKT cells for cancer treatment. This example further demonstrates the unlimited potential of iPSCs in medical applications. Learn more.

4. Are iPSC-based therapies safe? Can iPSCs be infused back to the body directly?

One concern of iPSC-based therapies is the potential risk of tumor formation due to (a) insertion of reprogramming factors into the genome and (b) residual undifferentiated iPSCs in the iPSC-derived cell transplant. Both issues have been addressed by using non-integrating reprogramming methods to derive iPSCs and more efficient differentiation protocol to generate therapeutic cells.

Most importantly, clinical data from the first use of iPSC-derived cells in a human has proven safe. There was no tumor (teratoma) observed in the patient with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) after transplantation of iPSC-derived retinal pigment epithelial cells. This strongly supports the safety of iPSC-based therapies.

Unlike multipotent stem cells such as mesenchymal stem cells and hematopoietic stem cells that can be injected directly into a patient, iPSCs are not meant for such application. Typically, an in-vitro differentiation process is required to convert iPSCs into other functional cells before administration.   

5. Why should I bank my own iPSCs? Can I use someone else’s iPSCs?

As in most cell transplantation or therapies, using matched cells is commonly required to minimize transplant rejection and maximize therapeutic efficacy. Using your own iPSCs will overcome the transplant rejection issue and the hassle of looking for a matched iPSC line. Hence, banking your own iPSCs provides a valuable matched cell source for your own future medical needs.

Typically, banked iPSCs will benefit the owner most because they are matched cells to the owner. However, they are unmatched cells to you and may not be the best cell source for you. In certain clinical setting, it is possible to use someone else’s iPSCs to generate cell therapy for you. For example, CytoMed is using donor’s iPSCs to manufacture cancer immunotherapeutic for cancer patients.

6. What is the procedure to bank my own iPSCs?

Your own blood cells will be used as starting material to generate your own iPSCs. Only pre-screened and pre-qualified blood cells are acceptable for iPSC generation. Interested individuals may contact IPSCBank to schedule blood test and blood withdrawal in partner clinic/hospital sites. Two visits to the clinical site are required:

  • 1st visit for blood test: Small amount of blood are withdrawn and sent for blood test. It is like your routine medical check-up and there is no requirement for fasting.

  • 2nd visit for blood withdrawal: After the individual has passed the blood test, 150ml (less than half volume of a soda can) of blood are withdrawn and immediately sent to the GMP facility for isolating peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). The PBMCs are then converted to iPSCs at the GMP facility.

7. Why should I bank my iPSCs now?

To provide high-quality matched iPSCs for your future medical needs, bank your iPSCs now when you are still eligible for such banking service. The reasons are as following:

  • Inadvertent medical conditions such as infectious diseases or cancers may disqualify an individual from cell banking service. As a common practice, IPSCBank will only convert blood samples from pre-screened individuals into iPSCs and bank those iPSCs derived from blood samples of qualified individuals.

  • The earlier the iPSC banking, the better the iPSC quality, the lesser background genetic mutation and hence the higher usability of the banked iPSCs in future applications.

8. Who is eligible to bank iPSCs? Is there an age limit?

All pre-screened pre-qualified individuals can bank their iPSCs. There is no age limit for banking iPSCs. But the earlier the better as explained above.

9. I have banked my cord blood. Can you generate iPSCs from there? Should I still bank iPSCs?

If you have already banked your cord blood at birth, we congratulate you! You have a fully matched blood stem cell source that may save you from leukaemia or other blood disorders when you are young. You should keep this precious and valuable autologous cell source as it is. However, please be reminded that the limited number and the fetal nature of the cord blood cells may not be ideal for adult use.

Technically, there is no problem to convert your cord blood into iPSCs. However, you should just keep these limited cord blood cells as it is as explained above. We can convert your adult blood cells into iPSCs instead when you are still healthy.

In brief, owning banked cord blood should not exclude you from iPSC banking and the broader range of potential benefits it may bring by the development of cell therapies.

10. Can I store my blood cells now and convert them to iPSCs later?

Yes. IPSCBank also provide PBMC banking service for interested individual. Such cryopreserved PBMCs can be thawed and converted into iPSCs on request later.

11. How long can banked iPSCs survive in cryo-storage?

It has only been a little bit more than a decade since the invention of iPSC technology. Some PSCs generated at the early stage are still being cryopreserved in liquid nitrogen and used for research. Hence, it is safe to say that iPSCs can survive in cryo-storage for at least a decade. Theoretically, as many other cell types, iPSCs can be cryopreserved in liquid nitrogen for decades.

12. Why bank my iPSCs with IPSCBank?

The advantages of iPSC banking with IPSCBank are:

  • Certified GMP facility and well-trained scientists: Your PBMCs will be isolated and converted to iPSCs by well-trained and experienced scientists in a certified state-of-the-art GMP facility.

  • Therapeutic potential: Your banked iPSCs may be further processed into therapeutic cells such as cancer-killing immune cells for cancer treatment using our patented proprietary technologies, of which we own the global exclusive license or other functional cells for regenerative medicine as actively being developed by scientists and clinicians around the world.

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