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Scripps Research scientists solve mystery of fragile stem cells
Date:4/12/2010

LA JOLLA, CA April 12, 2010 Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have solved the decade-old mystery of why human embryonic stem cells are so difficult to culture in the laboratory, providing scientists with useful new techniques and moving the field closer to the day when stem cells can be used for therapeutic purposes.

The research is being published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) during the week of April 12, 2010.

"This paper addresses a long-standing mystery," said Scripps Research Associate Professor Sheng Ding, who is senior author of the paper. "Scientists have been puzzled by why human embryonic stem cells die at a critical step in the culture process. In addition to posing a question in fundamental biology, this created a huge technical challenge in the lab."

The new paper, however, provides elegant solutions to both aspects of this problem.

In the study, the team discovered two novel synthetic small molecule drugs that can be added to human stem cell culture that each individually prevent the death of these cells. The team also unravels the mechanisms by which the compounds promote stem cell survival, shedding light on a previously unknown aspect of stem cell biology.

Notorious Fragility

The hope of most researchers in the field is that one day it will be possible to use stem cells which possess the ability to develop into many other distinct cell types, such as nerve, heart, or lung cells to repair damaged tissue from any number of diseases, from Type 1 diabetes to Parkinson's disease, as well as from injuries.

Laboratory work with human embryonic stem cells, however, has been hampered by their notorious fragility. In the process of growing stem cells in culture, scientists must split off cells from their cell colonies. At this point in the process, however, human embryonic stem cells die unless the scientists take extra
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Contact: Keith McKeown
kmckeown@scripps.edu
858-784-8134
Scripps Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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