Stem Cells in the News - Summer 2019
Tuesday, July 16, 2019 - 15:40
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.
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Researchers from the University of Toronto have recently published data that demonstrate the stability of the protein Klf4 as a major factor in organ development in mice. The key is in how it interacts with cellular DNA, provide new insights into the mechanism highlight the importance of the protein stabilizing mechanisms that influence both gene control and protein quantities during developmental processes. These findings also emphasize the growing importance of single cell level studies to better understand these mechanisms. Looking for an easier way to do single cell analysis? Meet Milo.
A research team from the Salk Institute and Kyoto University have published findings utilizing cerebral organoids derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to monitor nerve cell activity. This model provides a novel method for the study of complex brain functions and disorders of the brain. These mini-brains have been successfully measuring activity via calcium ion channels, but the team is planning to take this groundwork and develop a direct imaging method of firing neurons within the whole mini-brain. This tool is still under development, but the results are so far promising to better understand the neurological developmental process and human diseases. View our cerebral organoid reagent recipe.
Utilizing a well-known mouse mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) model of fat browning, researchers from the Nottingham School of Medicine suggest that caffeine could help in the battle to lose weight and prevent type 2 diabetes. Their results show that caffeine directly enhances UCP1 function, which increases mitochondrial activity and lipid handling. This, along with other known effects, suggest caffeine creates more metabolically active cells in the body by stimulating brown fat activation. This MSC model has allowed the team to hone-in on a minimally therapeutic dose of caffeine that promotes activation, as well as provided the ground work for future studies measuring these effects in obese or diabetic patients.
A promising new study for the future of neural stem cell (NSCs) from the University of Plymouth sheds light on how NSCs are activated to regenerate neurons and glial cells when damage or deterioration occurs. The study identifies a complex of molecules, called STRIPAK, that act as a switch to turn on and off NSC dormancy in a Drosophila model. This study is only the beginning of the research for the team who is looking to expand their findings to a human model and show it to be a useful therapeutic for neural disease and disorders, including prevention of brain cancers and repair of brain damage.
Researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the University of Negev have duplicated a patient’s blood brain barrier (BBB) from iPSCs on a microfluidic chip. This BBB-on-a-chip is a breakthrough for the study of neurological diseases like epilepsy and schizophrenia. This model provides a fully personalized treatment option to treat these disorders with the appropriate drugs, reducing drug trial and error common in the current treatments of these diseases.
In a recent study from the non-profit, Breast Cancer Now, a new potential therapeutic targeting cancer stem cells (CSCs) may have been uncovered. Metformin, a drug already commonly used to help treat Type 2 diabetes, when administered at low doses can cause a shift in the way CSCs make energy, making them more reliant on glucose to maintain and grow. The team is thrilled by this effect on the CSC metabolism and hope their work reveals new targets for therapy in the future.
In an interesting study from the University of Michigan, the team in the Kleer Lab have observed cancer stem cells (CSCs) engulfing other cell types to take on characteristics that would be beneficial to the metastases. In the study, they found, via flow cytometry, a hybrid population of CSCs and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). They found these CSC-MSC hybrid cells develop significant changes in their gene expression to aid in metastatic processes and the more hybrid cells present in the tumor(?), the more aggressive the cancer. This finding opens new avenues for the study of this unique cancer characteristic and more opportunities to halt metastases.
Immunosuppression has been a hallmark of most tissue and organ transplantations, but a recent study out of Stanford University School of Medicine may have developed a workaround to be able to use immunologically mismatched donors without risk. In a mouse model, the researchers used 6 specific antibodies to eliminate several types of immune cells in the bone marrow which allowed haploidentical pure hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) to engraft and produce blood and immune cells without the need for constant immunosuppression. This could be a huge step for organ transplantation success and the researchers are planning to conduct similar antibody-mediated conditioning in large animals and humanstudies in the future.
Treating Sickle Cell Anemia is complex and currently limited. Researchers from Rice University think a new option to reduce risk of rejection and treatment failure could be found by utilizing the advancements of CRISPR-Cas9 to modify hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs). The research team studied this gene-editing technique in a rodent model and show that their HSCs provide enough protective and normal hemoglobin to prevent sickling, even under severe hypoxia. While the road to a clinical trial is still a long way out, the data is promising, and the team hopes to further optimize their process to enhance results in a mouse model and move onto other animal studies.
The FDA has been granted an injunction to prevent a Florida-based US Stem Cell Clinic from offering “treatments” that involve creating stem cells from body fat and injecting them intravenously or directly into the spinal cords of patients with Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and other advanced, chronic conditions. The FDA has petitioned for over 4 years stating the clinic did not have enough preclinical evidence that this treatment was effective or that they had methods in place to prevent microbial contamination of the products, putting unknowing patients at great risk. This is a positive step for the field of regenerative medicine, which could be setback if dangerous, untested “treatments” are brought to the market in the US and cause severe injuries and even death. This ruling will serve as a critical precedent for future cases for a more efficient and safe oversight of cell-based regenerative medicine.