Scripps

CIRM grantees at the Scripps Research Institute, University of California, San Diego and Sanford-Burnham Research Institute have taken an intriguing step toward producing neural progenitor cells for research or therapies. The team, led by Sheng Ding who has recently moved to the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, started with mouse skin cells and converted them directly to an early stage of neural cell. The work was published in the April 26 online issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Many people in the stem cell community and at CIRM have been concerned about the growing trend of stem cell tourism -- people going overseas to receive unproven "stem cell" therapies. The term Stem Cells is in quotes here because in general these clinics are less than open about what, exactly, the therapy entails. One tourism destination in Costa Rica owned by an Arizona entrepreneur was just shut down by the country's Health Ministry.

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 – 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.