Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Researchers come up with new, simpler "recipe" for growing stem cells

In a new study, a research team from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has presented a new, simplified method for growing stem cells. The method works by inhibiting a specific membrane protein, called CD47. The researchers say that their method, unlike the currently available ones, requires less ingredients, e.g. cells and agents, to support cell growth.

Growing stem cells in the lab is not a simple task, requiring numerous and many times expensive "ingredients" to sustain their growth. Jeffrey S. Isenberg, co-author of the study and professor at Pittsburgh University explains:

"Often you have to use feeder cells or introduce viral vectors to artificially create the conditions needed for these cells to survive and thrive."

Back in 2008 and before joining the Pittsburgh University, Isenberg was working in the lab of David D. Roberts, senior author of the study, at the National Cancer Institute. There, the two men were experimenting with agents that block the CD47 membrane protein and explored their effects on blood vessels.

Computer generated image of the CD47 molecule
Computer generated image of the CD47 molecule

During their experiments, Isenberg noticed that lung endothelial cells treated with a CD47 blocker remained healthy and kept growing and functioning normally for months to come. Roberts' team continued investigating the CD47 blocker and later found that endothelial cells obtained from mice that lacked the CD47 protein were also able to multiply and thrive in cultures, unlike those taken from healthy mice (control group).

Then, Sukhbir Kaur, the study's lead author, found that this was the result of increased expression of four genes (Oct3/4, Sox2, Klf4, and c-Myc) that are also used in the creation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

The researchers say that CD47-deficient cells placed into a defined growth medium form clusters, like iPSCs do. Furthermore, experiments on mice suggest that these cells don't form tumors which is a major concern when using iPSCs.

"Stem cells prepared by this new procedure should be much safer to use in patients. Also, the technique opens up opportunities to treat various illnesses by injecting a drug that stimulates patients to make more of their own stem cells." said Roberts.

Dr. Isenberg says their method could be used sometime in the future to take any cell from any human and unlock its "pluripotent capability", generating large amounts of healthy cells that could be used for many different applications, like tissue engineering or as an alternative option to bone marrow transplantation.

"We can get brain cells, liver cells, muscle cells and more. In the short term, they could be a boon for a variety of research questions in the lab." said Isenberg.

Kaur, S., Soto-Pantoja, D., Stein, E., Liu, C., Elkahloun, A., Pendrak, M., Nicolae, A., Singh, S., Nie, Z., Levens, D., Isenberg, J., & Roberts, D. (2013). Thrombospondin-1 Signaling through CD47 Inhibits Self-renewal by Regulating c-Myc and Other Stem Cell Transcription Factors Scientific Reports, 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01673

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