The potential of human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) for regenerative medicine is unquestionable, but practical and ethical considerations have hampered clinical application and research. In an attempt to overcome these issues, the conversion of somatic cells into pluripotent stem cells similar to ESCs, commonly termed nuclear reprogramming, has been a top objective of contemporary biology. More than 40 years ago, King, Briggs, and Gurdon pioneered somatic cell nuclear reprogramming in frogs, and in 1981 Evans successfully isolated mouse ESCs. In 1997 Wilmut and collaborators produced the first cloned mammal using nuclear transfer, and then Thomson obtained human ESCs from in vitro fertilized blastocysts in 1998. Over the last 2 decades we have also seen remarkable findings regarding how ESC behavior is controlled, the importance of which should not be underestimated. This knowledge allowed the laboratory of Shinya Yamanaka to overcome brilliantly conceptual and technical barriers in 2006 and generate induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from mouse fibroblasts by overexpressing defined combinations of ESC-enriched transcription factors. Here, we discuss some important implications of human iPSCs for biology and medicine and also point to possible future directions.
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