(Santa Barbara, Calif.) Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have made a significant discovery in understanding the way human embryonic stem cells function.
They explain nature's way of controlling whether these cells will renew, or will transform to become part of an ear, a liver, or any other part of the human body. The study is reported in the May 1 issue of the journal Cell.
The scientists say the finding bodes well for cancer research, since tumor stem cells are the engines responsible for the growth of tumors. The discovery is also expected to help with other diseases and injuries. The study describes nature's negative feedback loop in cell biology.
"We have found an element in the cell that controls 'pluripotency,' that is the ability of the human embryonic stem cell to differentiate or become almost any cell in the body," said senior author Kenneth S. Kosik, professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology. Kosik is also co-director and Harriman Chair in Neuroscience Research of UCSB's Neuroscience Research Institute.
"The beauty and elegance of stem cells is that they have these dual properties," said Kosik. "On the one hand, they can proliferate they can divide and renew. On the other hand, they can also transform themselves into any tissue in the body, any type of cell in the body."
The research team includes James Thomson, who provided an important proof to the research effort. Thomson, an adjunct professor at UCSB, is considered the "father of stem cell biology." Thomson pioneered work in the isolation and culture of non-human primate and human embryonic stem cells. These cells provide researchers with unprecedented access to the cellular components of the human body, with applications in basic research, drug discovery, and transplantation medicine.
With regard to human embryonic stem cells, Kosik explained that for some time he and his team have been studying
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University of California - Santa Barbara