Stem Cells in the News - March 2019

Thursday, March 07, 2019 - 09:27 Cells in the News

We have captured this month’s most interesting, innovative, and maybe some of the strangest examples of stem cells in the news from around the world.


The Kreigstein lab at the University of California San Francisco is comparing the development of human and chimpanzee brain organoids to gain a better understanding of human evolution. Their recent study, published in Cell, identified hundreds of genes that were uniquely expressed in human brain organoids during specific stages of development compared to the genetic profile found in primate organoids. These genetic differences provide a list of targets that may give insight into human evolution.

The University of Sydney

Researchers at the University of Sydney have published a paper suggesting that tropoelastin could improve yields and lower costs of stem cell therapy manufacturing. Tropoelastin, a protein that contributes to cellular and tissue elasticity, was shown to preserve the multipotency and promote the expansion of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) compared to traditional matrix proteins used to grow MSCs. Investigating if the benefits of tropoelastin apply to other stem cell types and its impact if delivered in vivo are second-level research questions being addressed by the publishing group. Tropoelastin is currently a key ingredient for MeTro a commercially available elastic surgical glue that is used for wound healing.

Fate Therapeutics

Fate Therapeutics has received Investigational New Drug (IND) clearance for FT516, an off-the-shelf induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived Natural Killer (NK) cell engineered to express a modified CD16 Fc receptor. In FT516, the CD16 receptor is modified to prevent its downregulation in the tumor microenvironment, prolonging the antibody-dependent cellular toxicity (ADCC) activity of the NK cell. Initial clinical studies for this therapy will focus on safety and tolerance during treatment of hematologic malignancies. This is the first clearance of a cell therapy derived from a genetically engineered iPSC cell line.


In a recently published article in Stem Cells and Development, scientists in Japan report that ischemia-induced stem cells more effectively mitigate neuronal damage in the brain compared to transplanted mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Ischemia-induced stem cells are generated locally in the brain following stroke and have the differentiation potential to regenerate neurons with high efficiency. The comprehensive comparison study details similarities and differences between ischemic stem cells and MSCs, which will fuel further exploration of both cell types as therapeutic agents for central nervous system injury or damage.

Stem Cells Portal

Targeting of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to injury sites is a current challenge limiting their adoption as an effective and efficient cell therapy. Researchers from Southeast University in China sought to overcome this hurdle using gene editing of techniques. The research team edited MSCs to overexpress AT2R, showing that this modification improved MSC migration to the lung in a mouse model of acute lung injury. They show that this gene modification improves the therapeutic effects of MSCs in vivo. This exciting find has stimulated the application of this modification to other conditions and longer-term studies are already underway.


Researchers at McGovern Medical School at UT Health think that stem cell therapy may be an effective means for treating persistent disability following ischemic stroke. They have paired with ReNeuron to initiate a Phase IIb clinical trial for the direct injection of neural stem cells into the brains of chronic stroke patients. Preclinical research in animal models suggests that direct injection of stem cells into the damaged brain can improve recovery outcomes from chronic stroke. UT Health has recently recruited its first patient for this multicenter clinical trial.


A multi-institutional research publication, featured in Nature, outlines the generation of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived blood vessel organoids. These organoids mimic the in vivo microenvironment by forming capillary networks that include endothelial cells and pericytes. Human blood vessel organoids were shown to mimic cytoarchitectural changes associated with clinical diabetic vasculopathy. The researchers hope to use this model to identify the molecular regulators underlying microvascular abnormalities that can manifest during diabetes.

Cambridge Network

Researchers at the Sanger Institute have created over 100 patient-derived cancer organoid models that will be available, along with genome sequencing data, to researchers worldwide. By focusing on colorectal, esophageal, and pancreatic cancer, this initiative focused on creating banks of organoids that mimic in vivo tumor diversity. Using these models to sample tumor diversity will be beneficial for improving in vivo models for toxicology, drug discovery, and disease modeling.


A recent publication in Communications Biology describes a novel technique for the high-throughput culture of patient-derived tumor organoids. This “mini-ring” method, developed in the Soragni lab at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), creates hundreds of wells of patient-derived organoids in a short amount of time (3 -5 days) after receiving a tumor biopsy. High-throughput drug screening can then be performed, and a readout for effective drugs on a patient-to-patient basis can be obtained in as little as one to two weeks. This method shows proof-of-concept for using high-throughput 3-D cell cultures as future models for personalized medicine.

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