Burnham Institute

Researchers at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the Scripps Research Institute have found that a protein known to play an important role in maintaining mouse embryonic stem cells has a similarly crucial job in human embryonic stem cells. This protein, called Shp2, acts as a switch, telling the cells to either divide to make more of themselves – a process called self-renewal – or to mature into different cell types – called differentiation.

Researchers at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the University of California, San Diego have found parallels between how the pancreas develops in the embryo and type II diabetes (also known as adult diabetes). When the pancreas develops in an embryo, a protein called Wnt (pronounced "wint) helps control how the cells mature into insulin-producing cells. In most adults, the pancreas contains very little Wnt protein, but in people with type II diabetes Wnt protein is abundant in the pancreas.

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.