Boston University researchers have devised an efficient way to produce thyroid cells using genetically modified mouse embryonic stem cells. This could lead to generating human thyroid cells, which could allow for the modeling of thyroid disease and help unravel its causes.
The team cultured mouse embryonic stem cells in the lab and engineered them to express a genetic switch for the gene Nkx2-1, which is involved in thyroid development. Guiding the stem cells through different stages of development, they switched this gene on and off, according to a statement.
They found one time period where activating the gene caused the majority of stem cells to become thyroid cells. This work, published in Stem Cell Reports, is the first step to developing a similar approach using human stem cells, according to the statement.
Thyroid disorders affect about 10% of the U.S. population, the team said. They include Grave’s disease, caused by an overactive thyroid and Hashimoto’s disease, which can cause hyper- or hypothyroidism. The research could lead to new treatments, stem cell therapies or genetic engineering technologies for people with thyroid disorders.
While the approach had a “high yield” of thyroid cells, it may be useful in generating other cell types, such as lung cells, insulin-producing cells and liver cells, said Laertis Ikonomou, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.