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Stanford University School of Medicine

Red light, green light — Stanford researchers drive stem cells to specialized fates

Human embryonic stem cells are wonderful things. If, that is, you can get them to do what you want. Although they can become any cell type, this feat is only useful for regenerative medicine if this transformation can occur quickly and without missteps. A hodgepodge of cell types is unlikely to be clinically useful.

Now, Stanford graduate student Kyle Loh and research assistant Angela Chen, working in the laboratory of stem cell biologist Irving Weissman, MD, have come up with an ingenious way to guide the stepwise choices of embryonic stem cells to generate any of 12 human cell types including bone, heart muscle cells and cartilage. You can watch Loh explaining the process in the video above.

The research was published recently in Cell and was featured today on the NIH's Director's Blog.

From our release:

The quickest, most efficient way to micromanage the cells’ developmental decisions was to apply a simultaneous combination of factors that both encouraged the differentiation into one lineage while also actively blocking the cells from a different fate — a kind of “yes” and “no” strategy.

Weissman is the director of Stanford's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and also its Ludwig Cancer Center. He and Lay Teng Ang, PhD, of the Genome Institute of Singapore, are co-senior authors of the study.

Weissman explained the importance of the research in our release:

Regenerative medicine relies on the ability to turn pluripotent human stem cells into specialized tissue stem cells that can engraft and function in patients. It took us years to be able to isolate blood-forming and brain-forming stem cells. Here we used our knowledge of the developmental biology of many other animal models to provide the positive and negative signaling factors to guide the developmental choices of these tissue and organ stem cells. Within five to nine days we can generate virtually all the pure cell populations that we need.

Previously: "Home away from home": Artificial muscle fibers keep lab-grown stem cells happy, A stem cell "kill switch" may make therapies safer, say Stanford researchers and The war within: In our aging bodies, the "fittest" stem cells may not be the ones that ensure our survival
Video courtesy of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine

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