Ever get an orange in your Christmas stocking? Scientists working with induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) got the equivalent of an orange in their Christmas stocking this year. Chinese and Austrian scientists reported on Christmas Eve that simply adding ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to the culture medium in which cells are grown increases by 100-fold the efficiency of mouse and human iPS cell production. IPS cells behave like embryonic stem cells, but no embryos, eggs, or cloning are involved in their production. Genes are added to normal cells, such as skin cells, that reprogram the cells to behave like an embryonic stem cell.

In trying to produce iPS cells, the group found that higher levels of reactive oxygen species were associated with low reprogramming efficiency. When they tested antioxidants, they discovered that vitamin C slowed cell senescence (cell aging) and improved reprogramming into iPS cells, but other antioxidants did not have the same effect. The results highlight a simple way to improve production of iPS cells and also give insight into the process.

The paper was published online in Cell Stem Cell.