The method developed by Dalton and a post-doctoral researcher in his laboratory, Laura Menendez, involves bathing cells in a solution of small molecules that suppress one pathway, known as Smad, and amplify another, known as Wnt. The inhibition of Smad is used in the process that creates the related neural progenitor cells, which suggested that the pathway could also play a role in the development of neural crest cells. Observing that the Wnt pathway is highly active in the formation of the neural crest in developing organisms led Dalton and his team to suspect that activating the pathway could give them the cells they needed. After testing various concentrations of the signaling molecules and determining the optimal time to deliver them, the scientists discovered that they could create neural crest cells with little or no contamination of other cell types.
The new method cuts the amount of time required to generate the cells by approximately one-half. Dalton said another benefit is that instead of using costly large-molecule compounds known as growth factors and cytokines to direct the differentiation of cells, his method uses inexpensive small molecules that have a much higher degree of consistency.
With their newly developed ability to create neural crest cells, Dalton and his team are working to gain a deeper understanding of normal developmentas well as what goes wrong in devastating diseases that are associated with neural crest defects, such as Hirschsprung's disease, DiGeorge syndrome and Treacher-Collins syndrome.
The cells that Dalton and his team have created are self-renewing, which means that multiple additional cells can be created from an initial batch. Having large numbers of cells that can easily be stored is essential for drug testing as well as for cell transplantation, the holy grail of stem cell science. "Now that we've worked out ways for mak
|Contact: Stephen Dalton|
University of Georgia