Control of Stem Cell Fate

Protein found to direct embryonic stem cells as they mature

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that clusters of embryonic stem cells in a lab dish share some unexpected similarities with actual embryos. These clumps, called embryoid bodies, consist of hundreds of cells, many of which begin to form more mature cell types. For example, they often contain groups of primitive heart muscle cells that beat visibly. In this work the researchers found that the embryoid bodies also contain a line of cells that resemble an embryonic structure called the primitive streak.

Early immune cells created from embryonic stem cells

Researchers at UC, Los Angeles have created cells that go on to form normal T cells out of human embryonic stem cells. What's more, these cells were grown in the absence of animal feeder cells, which are usually needed to sustain embryonic stem cells. Avoiding potential contamination by such feeder cells is an important step in generating cells that can be transplanted into people. The researchers describe a series of steps that drive human embryonic stem cells to begin developing as T cells.

Method Produces Nerve Cells More Quickly

Researchers at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research have developed a new way of quickly maturing embryonic stem cells into neural cells. Other research groups have worked out lab conditions that encourage embryonic stem cells to mature into various types of nerve cells, but those methods were slow and resulted in early stage nerve cells that were more likely to cause tumors when transplanted into mice. This new method could speed work by researchers who are trying to develop therapies for diseases of the nervous system.

Genetic Factors Found to Regulate Embryonic Stem Cell Maturation

Researchers at UC, San Francisco identified a molecule that regulates differentiation of embryonic stem cells. In some cases, small molecules of the genetic material RNA have the ability to turn genes on and off rather than carrying out the normal RNA function of coding for proteins. These small RNAs, called micro RNA or miRNA, are thought to be one way the cell regulates genes that control how stem cells differentiate into mature cell types. In this study, the researchers created genetically altered mouse embryonic stem cells that lack the miRNA DGCR8.

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