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Stem cells engage in dialogue with the cells that regulate their futures

Dialogue, not a monologue, is the basis of all good communication. Stem cells are no exception. Recent University of Washington (UW) research has found an early indication of two-way cellular communication in the miniscule niches of the body where the futures of stem cells are determined.

Stem cells require these niches - nest-like microenvironments made up of regulatory cells ?in order to self-renew. Stem cells can divide and turn into many types of new cells. The niches help regulate the amount and kinds of new cells produced to meet current demands.

The niches also help maintain a supply of stem cells for later use. Inside your body, for example, there are separate niches for stem cells that will become blood, for cells that will become skin, and so on. Niches are places where your stem cells can replenish themselves and your tissue cells throughout your lifetime.

Problems in the niches can lead to diseases in the body. For example, if cell multiplication in a niche gets out of hand, cancer might form. A decline in cell production might contribute to the frailty of old age.

While a few stem-cell niches have been known for a long time, what's been harder to discover are the characteristics of the cells making up these niches and how they make it possible for stem cells to do their job. Signaling between cells in the niche plays a role in stem-cell upkeep and development. Most research has focused on the signaling of niche cells to stem cells.

"We looked at the possibility that two-way communication exists between stem cells and niche cells," said UW stem-cell niche researcher Hannele Ruohola-Baker, professor of biochemistry and a member of the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine. "Demonstrating that stem cells can contribute to niche function has far-reaching consequences for stem-cell therapies and may provide insight on how cancer might spread throughout the body via populations of cancer stem ce
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Source:University of Washington


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