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Trigger for Stem Cell Differentiation Detailed

Discovery could help scientists steer development of cells for therapies, study shows

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 5 (HealthDay News) -- New details about a key trigger of embryonic stem cell differentiation have been uncovered by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

They found that clusters of mouse embryonic stem cells called embryoid bodies are more like true embryos in terms of organization and structure than previously thought. Harnessing the signals that direct their destiny may help in efforts to more accurately guide the differentiation of embryonic stem cells for use in therapy, the researchers said.

Embryoid bodies have hallmarks of gastrulation, a developmental stage that starts a hollow ball of cells on the way to becoming an organism with three distinct types of precursor cells, the Stanford team said.

They showed this process is launched by a single signaling pathway in embryoid bodies and in true embryos, and that enhancing or blocking the signal affects the cells' destiny.

The findings were published in the Nov. 6 issue of Cell Stem Cell.

"A lot of embryonic stem cell research is aimed at devising ways to help the cells differentiate along a particular path," study senior author Roeland Nusse, a professor of developmental biology, said in a Stanford news release. "But it's very difficult to know how to do this. We're learning that they do more things in culture than we previously thought; at the same time, we're developing more tools to control what they become."

More information

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

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Stanford University, news release, Nov. 5, 2008

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