Stem cells hold keys to body's plan

PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:

5-Jun-2014

Contact: Jeannette Spalding jeannette.spalding@case.edu 216-368-3004 Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland June 5, 2014 Case Western Reserve researchers have discovered landmarks within pluripotent stem cells that guide how they develop to serve different purposes within the body. This breakthrough offers promise that scientists eventually will be able to direct stem cells in ways that prevent disease or repair damage from injury or illness. The study and its results appear in the June 5 edition of the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Pluripotent stem cells are so named because they can evolve into any of the cell types that exist within the body. Their immense potential captured the attention of two accomplished faculty with complementary areas of expertise.

We had a unique opportunity to bring together two interdisciplinary groups, said co-senior author Paul Tesar, PhD, Assistant Professor of Genetics and Genome Sciences at CWRU School of Medicine and the Dr. Donald and Ruth Weber Goodman Professor.

"We have exploited the Tesar labs expertise in stem cell biology and my labs expertise in genomics to uncover a new class of genetic switches, which we call seed enhancers, said co-senior author Peter Scacheri, PhD, Associate Professor of Genetics and Genome Sciences at CWRU School of Medicine. Seed enhancers give us new clues to how cells morph from one cell type to another during development."

The breakthrough came from studying two closely related stem cell types that represent the earliest phases of development embryonic stem cells and epiblast stem cells, first described in research by Tesar in 2007. These two stem cell types give us unprecedented access to the earliest stages of mammalian development, said Daniel Factor, graduate student in the Tesar lab and co-first author of the study.

Olivia Corradin, graduate student in the Scacheri lab and co-first author, agrees. Stem cells are touted for their promise to make replacement tissues for regenerative medicine, she said. But first, we have to understand precisely how these cells function to create diverse tissues.

Enhancers are sections of DNA that control the expression of nearby genes. By comparing these two closely related types of pluripotent stem cells (embryonic and epiblast), Corradin and Factor identified a new class of enhancers, which they refer to as seed enhancers. Unlike most enhancers, which are only active in specific times or places in the body, seed enhancers play roles from before birth to adulthood.

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Stem cells hold keys to body's plan

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