CHAMPAIGN, Ill. The gap between stem cell research and regenerative medicine just became a lot narrower, thanks to a new technique that coaxes stem cells, with potential to become any tissue type, to take the first step to specialization. It is the first time this critical step has been demonstrated in a laboratory.
University of Illinois researchers, in collaboration with scientists at Notre Dame University and the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China, published their results in the journal Nature Communications.
"Everybody knows that for an embryo to form, somehow a single cell has a way to self-organize into multiple cells, but the in vivo microenvironment is not well understood," said study leader Ning Wang, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at the U. of I. "We want to know how they develop into organized structures and organs. It doesn't happen by random chance. There are biological rules that we don't yet understand."
During fetal development, all the specialized tissues and organs of the body form out of a small ball of stem cells. First, the ball of generalized cells separates into three different cell lines, called germ layers, which will become different systems of the body. This crucial first step has eluded researchers in the lab. No one has yet been able to induce the cells to form the three distinct germ layers, in the correct order endoderm on the inside, mesoderm in the middle and ectoderm on the outside. This represents a major hurdle in the application of stem cells to regenerative medicine, since researchers need to understand how tissues develop before they can reliably recreate the process.
"It's very hard to generate tissues or organs, and the reason is that we don't know how they form in vivo," Wang said. "The problem, fundamentally, is that the biological process is not clear. What is the biological environment that controls this, so they can become more orga
|Contact: Liz Ahlberg|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign