Over the past decade, stem cells have been a hot news item.  Here are some late breaking news stories about them.

How they work:  Researchers in the Netherlands found a new way to culture mouse embryonic stem cells in vitro.  They found to their surprise, according to Science Daily, that the stem cells seem to be “on hold,”, their gene expression inhibited, rather than actively transcribing genes as previously believed.  “From this state, the ES cells can efficiently specialize,” the article said.

Embryonic self-sacrifice:  Researchers at the North Carolina School of Medicine found that embryonic stem cells will commit suicide rather than risk DNA damage.  A protein called Bax, responsible for programmed cell death, is activated but kept in a safe place in the Golgi apparatus for the crucial days of embryonic development.  If DNA damage occurs, Bax migrates to the mitochondrion, where it initiates cell death.  PhysOrg titled its report, “Stem cells poised to self-destruct for the good of the embryo,” as if they will fall on their swords for the good of the organism rather than let DNA damage propagate.

Safe adult cells:  Techniques for inducing pluripotent stem cells from tissues (iPS) continue to improve.  PhysOrg reported that researchers at Johns Hopkins verified that iPS cells contain no more genetic changes than normal cells.  This adds confidence that therapies developed from them will be safe, not adding cancer risk.

Skipping a step:  According to Science Daily, researchers at Duke University were able to generate heart muscle tissue from scar tissue without going through a stem cell stage by programming microRNAs to turn scar cells back into heart muscle cells.  By eliminating the need for a stem cell transplant, this promises to improve the hopes of damage repair for heart attack patients….

 

 

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