Adult cells can be turned into 'pluripotent' or embryonic-like stem cells with the insertion of four genes — Sox2, Oct4, Klf4 and c-Myc. However, this method is not clinically useful because c-Myc and Sox2 have been linked to cancer and the viral vectors used to transfer those genes are also cancer-promoting.
Using chemical screening, Lee Rubin and Kevin Eggan at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and their colleagues discovered a small molecule, which they call RepSox, that essentially does the jobs of c-Myc and Sox2. Mouse cells expressing only Klf4 and Oct4 became pluripotent after treatment with RepSox.
This may be a step towards chemical cell reprogramming that avoids gene transfer altogether.
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Stem-cell biology: Chemical reset. Nature 461, 851 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/461851d