Stanford researchers produce 12 cell types from human stem cells in days

Blue stem cells

Being able to produce a variety of specific cell types quickly and inexpensively is key to routinely incorporating a genetic approach into preclinical research. Now, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown that they can rapidly produce populations of at least 12 cell types, including bone, heart muscle and cartilage, from human embryonic stem cells.

The process takes days, rather than weeks or months, and the populations are “pure”--making them suitable for regenerative medicine applications.

The study relied upon monitoring patterns of gene expression to help guide the cell’s specialized development. The research could help lead to the ability to create heart cells to repair heart attack damage or to create cartilage or bone.

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“Regenerative medicine relies on the ability to turn pluripotent human stem cells into specialized tissue stem cells that can engraft and function in patients,” said Dr. Irving Weissman, the director of Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and also of its Ludwig Cancer Center, said in a statement.

He added, “It took us years to be able to isolate blood-forming and brain-forming stem cells. Here we used our knowledge of the developmental biology of many other animal models to provide the positive and negative signaling factors to guide the developmental choices of these tissue and organ stem cells. Within five to nine days we can generate virtually all the pure cell populations that we need.”

The results from the study, which was led by Weissman and Lay Teng Ang of the Genome Institute of Singapore, were published in the July 7 issue of Cell.

The scientists started with a human embryonic stem cell line, then they used established signaling molecules, such as WNT, BMP and Hedgehog to nudge the cells into becoming more specialized precursor cells. They found it was most effective to use these to both encourage differentiation and discourage them from an alternate path. 

Via this process, the researchers were able to develop precursors for the 12 different cell types that include cardiac and skeletal muscle, connective tissue, bone, blood vessels, blood cells, cartilage and portions of the kidneys and skin.

The scientists now plan to demonstrate that these cells can be used to regenerate tissues. They were already able to transplant bone cell precursors into mice that formed human bone, as well as to create beating heart cells.

“Next, we’d like to show that these different human progenitor cells can regenerate their respective tissues and perhaps even ameliorate disease in animal models,” said Kyle Loh, a Stanford graduate student who was part of the research.

- here is the announcement

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