There’s been a huge boom in research on induced pluripotent stem cells — adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed so that scientists can turn them into all kinds of other cells — since their discovery about a decade ago. But there have also been concerns about whether those reprogrammed cells could potentially pass cancer-causing mutations to patients when they’re transplanted.

Neurobiologist Jeanne Loring of the Scripps Institute set out to see if that’s really the case, as described in Nature Communications.

What spurred you to look at this?

IPS cells are going to be used for cell therapy. You can take a patient’s skin cells, turn them into pluripotent stem cells, and then generate the cell types you need to replace. Very cool, right? But one of the greatest concerns with ISP cells, and this isn’t entirely based in science, is that they’re going to acquire mutations and when we put them into people, the cells are going to go awry and in the worst cases, turn into cancer.

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What did you do to test whether that’s the case?

We reprogrammed the cells, and we used different methods to find out if there’s anything [dangerous] associated with a particular method of cell conversion. And there are some variants, but you can’t really call them mutations. We each have around 3.5 million different variants than the person you’re sitting next to. A lot of variation in the genome is normal. Our own cells are very diverse in the same way these IPS cells are diverse. I’ve had my genome sequenced a bunch of times, and I have variants in my genome that someone might get alarmed about. But the fact is, it doesn’t matter. But when we looked for mutations known to be associated with cancer, we just didn’t find them. Mutation sounds really scary, but what we found is extremely normal.

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