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Mount Sinai Researchers Show Stem Cells Are Wired for Cooperation, Down to the DNA
Date:9/13/2013

New York, NY (PRWEB) September 13, 2013

We often think of human cells as tiny computers that perform assigned tasks, where disease is a result of a malfunction. But in the current issue of Science, researchers at The Mount Sinai Medical Center offer a radical view of health — seeing it more as a cooperative state among cells, while they see disease as result of cells at war that fight with each other for domination.

Their unique approach is backed by experimental evidence. The researchers show a network of genes in cells, which includes the powerful tumor suppressor p53, which enforce a cooperative state within cells—rather like the queen bee in a beehive. Disease or disorder occurs when these enforcer genes are mutated, allowing competition between cells to ensue.

“Both competition and cooperation drive evolution, and we are wired for cooperation all the way down to our genes,” says the study’s senior investigator, Thomas P. Zwaka, MD, PhD, Professor at the Black Family Stem Cell Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The findings, if backed by future research, offer a new way to address disease, Dr. Zwaka says. Understanding the genetic basis of cooperative and competitive cellular behaviors could explain how cancer and immune system dysfunction develops, he says. “If a cell has lost a gene that fosters communication among cells, it may dominate other cells by ignoring signals to stop proliferating. It also makes sense that the immune system might detect and attack cells that are not cooperating. Failure to cooperate may also underlie development of birth defects.”

He adds that it may be possible to flip the cooperation switch back on therapeutically, or to manipulate stem-like cells to misbehave in a way that produces replacement cells for regenerative medicine.

“Cell misbehave, they are unpredictable. They do not operate like little machines,” he says. “What our stu
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