Genetic biomarker could help scientists select cell lines for stem cell studies

Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital have identified a biomarker that could help scientists choose the right stem cell line for experiments in which specific body tissues are needed.

They found that stem cells that strongly express the gene WNT3 are more inclined to turn into pancreas, liver and bladder cells and tissues than other kinds of stem cells without the gene.

This finding suggests that scientists could use other genes as biomarkers to help select stem cells with a preference for differentiating into different types of tissues. The research appeared in the June 6 issue of the journal Stem Cell Reports.

"We would like to find other markers and develop a scoring system," Yi Zhang, a researcher of the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children's, said in a statement. "There are many hESC and iPSC lines, and we need a simple way to tell which to use in order to produce particular cell types."

Human embryonic (hESC) and induced pluripotent (iPSC) cell lines are valued for their ability to develop into other kinds of cells or tissues. What varies across hESC and iPSC lines is their differentiation potential--the ability for stem cells to turn into specific cell types.

Different stem cell lines are predisposed to transform into one of the three major tissue groups: endoderm, which includes the digestive tract, liver and pancreas; mesoderm, which includes cartilage, the circulatory system and kidneys; and ectoderm, including the cornea, nervous system and teeth.

The researchers said ideally they hope scientists could pick the most appropriate cell line without having to carry out full differentiation experiments first.

- here's the press release

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