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Scientists Create New Means to Study Disease Origins

Availability of rat stem cells may help link genes to human disorders,,

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 24 (HealthDay News) -- The first embryonic stem (ES) cells from rats have been derived by University of Southern California researchers, who said their success will enable the creation of far more effective animal models to study a wide range of human diseases.

"This is a major development in stem cell research because we know that rats are much more closely related to humans than mice in many aspects of biology," principal investigator Qi-Long Ying, an assistant professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine, said in a university news release. "The research direction of many labs around the world will change because of the availability of rat ES cells."

The ability to derive rat ES cells advances efforts to create rats for use in biomedical research that are genetically modified to lack one or more genes. The ability to observe what happens to an animal when specific genes are removed helps scientists pinpoint the function of genes and whether they're associated with specific diseases.

"The availability of rat ES cells will greatly facilitate the creation of rat models for the study of different human diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, addiction and autoimmune diseases," said Ying, who is also a researcher at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the university.

The first ES cell lines from mice were created in 1981, and researchers have long been trying to establish rat ES cells. But conventional methods developed for deriving mouse ES cells didn't work in rats. The research team finally found a laboratory-based way to grow rat stem cells indefinitely in the primitive embryonic state.

The research appears in the Dec. 26 issue of Cell.

In another study published in the same issue of the journal, a team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge in England report similar findings. This provides independent verification that authentic ES cells can be established from rats.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.

-- Robert Preidt

University of Southern California, news release, Dec. 24, 2008

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