(iPS) is an acronym for “induced pluripotent stem cell”. Bascially, the iPS cell is a laboratory induced embryonic-like- stem cell. These cells are important since they act like embryonic stem cells, but do not require the destruction of human embryos. Instead, the iPS cell is derived from an “adult differentiated cell”, such as a skin cell.
For example, using iPS technology, the skin cell can be reprogrammed using genetic engineering techniques to express four genes that subsequently change the adult cell (i.e, skin cell) into a embryonic-like- stem cell.
With these changes the iPS cell can now theoretically develop into any cell type in the body (a term called pluripotency)...just as embryonic stem cells are said to be. Since pluripotency is the reason why embryonic stem cells are touted to hold much therapeutic promise, the iPS cell holds comparable therapeutic promise.
Like adult stem cells, the iPS method provides an alternative scientific method to find cell-based therapeutic cures without the destruction of embryos. This has been a boon for those scientists who believe it unethical to use human embryos in research.
The first human iPS cell created in 2007 was a huge scientific breakthrough. Here is a link to a another recent breakthrough making iPS cells potentially safer for therapeutic targets. Breakthrough makes lab-produced stem cells safer for humans, Science Centric March 1, 2009