CellNet applies network biology to discover the complex network of genes that are turned on or off in an engineered cell, known as the cell's Gene Regulatory Network or GRN. It then compares that network to the cell's real-life counterpart in the body, as determined from public genome databases. Through this comparison, researchers can rigorously and reliably assess:
- the quality of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) made by reprogramming blood cells or skin cells
- the quality of specialized cells—such as liver, heart, muscle, brain or blood cells—made from either iPS cells or embryonic stem cells
- the quality of specialized cells made from other specialized cells (such as liver cells made directly from skin cells)
- what specific improvements need to be made to the engineering process.
"CellNet will also be a powerful tool to advance synthetic biology—to engineer cells for specific medical applications," says James Collins, PhD, Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute and the William F. Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University, co-senior investigator on one of the studies.
Putting CellNet to the test
The researchers—including co-first authors Patrick Cahan, PhD and Samantha Morris, PhD, of Boston Children's, and Hu Li, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic, first used CellNet to assess the quality of eight kinds of cells created in 56 published studies.
In a second study, they applied CellNet's teachings to a recurring question in stem cell biology: Is it feasible to directly convert one specialized cell type to another, bypassing the laborious process of first creating an iPS cell? This study looked at two kinds of directly converted cells: liver cells made from skin cells, and macrophages made
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