Two recent papers by CIRM grantees highlight the importance of understanding basic stem cell biology while developing new cures. Both have to do with chemical modifications to the DNA â called epigenetics.
One of the two papers shows that an epigenetic change in DNA, called methylation, changes dramatically as human embryonic stem cells mature into specific cell types; the other shows that even subtle DNA methylation differences alter the way a cell behaves.
Radiation can effectively destroy brain tumor cells â but at a cost. While killing the tumor cells the treatment also damages normal cells in portions of the brain involved in learning and memory, leaving people with varying levels of impairment. New work by researchers at the University of California, Irvine suggests that human embryonic stem cells are able to ameliorate radiation-induced normal tissue damage.
Researchers at UC, Los Angeles discovered a series of mutations that can convert normal blood stem cells into cancer stem cells. It is believed that many types of cancer result from cancer stem cells created by such mutations. In this case the first mutation converted normal stem cells and then caused over expression of an oncogene, a cancer gene, resulting in a proliferation of leukemia stem cells and acute T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia in a mouse model.
Researchers at UC, San Diego verified a suspect gene mutation in blood-forming stem cells was by itself necessary and sufficient to cause a class of severe blood diseases called myeloproliferative disorders. They then worked with a team of researchers from other academic institutions and from the San Diego pharmaceutical company TargeGen to conduct animal tests of a compound TargeGen had already isolated and shown to inhibit that same genetic pathway. As a result of this broad collaboration, human clinical trials for this potential therapy began in February, 2008.