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Using geometry, researchers coax human embryonic stem cells to organize themselves
Date:6/30/2014

About seven days after conception, something remarkable occurs in the clump of cells that will eventually become a new human being. They start to specialize. They take on characteristics that begin to hint at their ultimate fate as part of the skin, brain, muscle or any of the roughly 200 cell types that exist in people, and they start to form distinct layers.

Although scientists have studied this process in animals, and have tried to coax human embryonic stem cells into taking shape by flooding them with chemical signals, until now the process has not been successfully replicated in the lab. But researchers led by Ali Brivanlou, Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor and head of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Molecular Embryology at The Rockefeller University, have done it, and it turns out that the missing ingredient is geometrical, not chemical.

"Understanding what happens in this moment, when individual members of this mass of embryonic stem cells begin to specialize for the very first time and organize themselves into layers, will be a key to harnessing the promise of regenerative medicine," Brivanlou says. "It brings us closer to the possibility of replacement organs grown in petri dishes and wounds that can be swiftly healed."

In the uterus, human embryonic stem cells receive chemical cues from the surrounding tissue that signal them to begin forming layers  a process called gastrulation. Cells in the center begin to form ectoderm, the brain and skin of the embryo, while those migrating to the outside become mesoderm and endoderm, destined to become muscle and blood and many of the major organs, respectively.

Brivanlou and his colleagues, including postdocs Aryeh Warmflash and Benoit Sorre as well as Eric Siggia, Viola Ward Brinning and Elbert Calhoun Brinning Professor and head of the Laboratory of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics, confined human embryonic stem cells originally derived at Rockefeller
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Contact: Zach Veilleux
zveilleux@rockefeller.edu
212-327-8982
Rockefeller University
Source:Eurekalert  

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