Athens, Ga. In principle, stem cells offer scientists the opportunity to create specific cell typessuch as nerve or heart cellsto replace tissues damaged by age or disease. In reality, coaxing stem cells to become the desired cell type can be challenging, to say the least.
In a paper published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, however, scientists at the University of Georgia describe a method thatin a single stepdirects undifferentiated, or pluripotent, stem cells to become neural crest cells, which are the precursors of bone cells, smooth muscle cells and neurons.
"Now that we have methods for efficiently making neural crest stem cells, we can start to use them to better understand human diseases," said lead author Stephen Dalton, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Molecular Biology and professor of cellular biology in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "The cells can be also used in drug discovery and potentially in cell therapy, which involves the transplantation of cells."
The process by which a pluripotent stem cell, which has the ability to become any type of cell in the body, becomes a specific cell type is orchestrated by signaling molecules that activate specific "decision" pathways within cells. As a stem cell divides, various combinations of these molecules at different points during its development narrow its possible outcomes so that it ultimately becomes one type of cell, a skin cell, for example, instead of, say, a muscle cell.
Until now, creating neural crest cells relied on a mix of science and serendipity. Scientists would take undifferentiated stem cells and direct them to become a related but different cell type known as neural progenitor cells. The neural crest cells they really wanted would often show up as contaminants, which scientists would then isolate and use for their studies. Not surprisingly, the process was laborious, ti
|Contact: Stephen Dalton|
University of Georgia