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MIT: Stem cells could drive hepatitis research forward
Date:2/1/2012

rowing them on special micropatterned plates that direct their organization. These liver cells can be infected with hepatitis C, but they cannot be used to proactively study the role of genetic variation in viral responses because they come from organs that have been donated for transplantation and represent only a small population.

To make cells with more genetic variation, Bhatia and Rice decided to team up with Duncan, who had shown that he could transform iPSCs into liver-like cells.

Such iPSCs are derived from normal body cells, often skin cells. By turning on certain genes in those cells, scientists can revert them to an immature state that is identical to embryonic stem cells, which can differentiate into any cell type. Once the cells become pluripotent, they can be directed to become liver-like cells by turning on genes that control liver development.

In the current paper, MIT postdoc Robert Schwartz and graduate student Kartik Trehan took those liver-like cells and infected them with hepatitis C. To confirm that infection had occurred, the researchers engineered the viruses to secrete a light-producing protein every time they went through their life cycle.

Genetic differences

The researchers' ultimate goal is to take cells from patients who had unusual reactions to hepatitis C infection, transform those cells into liver cells and study their genetics to see why they responded the way they did. "Hepatitis C virus causes an unusually robust infection in some people, while others are very good at clearing it. It's not yet known why those differences exist," Bhatia says.

One potential explanation is genetic differences in the expression of immune molecules such as interleukin-28, a protein that has been shown to play an important role in the response to hepatitis infection. Other possible factors include cells' expression of surface proteins that enable the virus to enter the cells, and cells' suscept
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Contact: Caroline McCall, MIT Media Relations
cmccall5@mit.edu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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