A Cellular Atlas: This Algorithm Can Predict How To Grow Virtually Any Cell Type

Credit: Sanofi Pasteur

Researchers at the University of Bristol have created 'Mogrify' - an algorithm that can predict how to reprogram virtually any type of cell

One way of creating new cells is with stem cells. The most famous of these are embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells, the latter made from your own cells. While these cells have immense potential, the process of creating them is complicated and not without error. Coaxing these cells into a new type once you've made them is also easier said than done. 

Improving on stem cells

Reprogramming rearranges epigenetic marks and initiates a new genetic program

Because of this, researchers have turned to direct reprogramming as a potentially superior technique for quick conversions. Reprogramming essentially means signalling a cell to morph straight into another cell type, without bothering with the stem cell step. A liver cell could be instructed to become a skin cell for example. Chemical signals act as instructions that limit and provide an identity to cells, and under normal circumstances these don't change. However, if you know the exact chemical code required, you could theoretically instruct a cell to become almost any other. 

"Mogrify acts like a 'world atlas' for the cell and allows us to map out new territories in cell conversions in humans. One of the first clinical applications that we hope to achieve with this innovative approach would be to reprogramme 'defective' cells from patients into 'functioning' healthy cells, without the intermediate induced pluripotent stem cells step"

This new algorithm termed 'Mogrify' was created after 5 years of development, and uses a database of over 300 different human cell types to predict which factors are required to make each type. It uses big data to accomplish in a very short amount of time, what would take years in the lab. 

Credit: Wellcome Images

“Mogrify predicts how to create any human cell type from any other cell type directly. With Professor Jose Polo at Monash University in Australia, we tested it on two new human cell conversions, and succeeded the first time for both. The speed with which this was achieved suggests Mogrify will enable the creation of a great number of human cell types in the lab” 

Although the system needs further work, initial tests have been very encouraging. In the first two trials carried out, the unique system was able to correct predict which factors were needed. This is a great example of how big data and computer science is helping to revolutionise and speed up bioscience breakthroughs; hopefully quickening advancement in organ growth and regenerative medicine. 

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