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Stem Cells: Divide and Conquer!

Oct 23rd, 2013 | by Bryan LaScala
Bryan LaScala

Bryan LaScala

October 23rd, 2013

As many of you know (or for those who don’t), stem cells have the astonishing potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. They also can serve as a type of internal repair system, dividing without limit to replenish other cells as long as the organism is still living (stemcells.nih.gov).

When a stem cell divides, each new cell then has the potential to either remain a stem cell or to become a more specific type of cell, such as a brain cells or skin cells (stemcells.nih.gov).

Two characteristics distinguish stem cells from other cell types. Stem cells are:
Unspecialized cells that renew themselves through cell division, sometimes after long periods of inactivity.
Can be induced to become tissue- or organ-specific cells with special functions under certain conditions.
Currently, new studies are being conducted to help improve our research on stem cells. An article posted on PHYS.org states that researchers from the University of Toronto have developed a method that can quickly screen human stem cells and have more control over what type of cell they turn into.

Researches used human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC), which have the potential become any type of cell in the body. But the tricky part is getting them to grow into specific types of cells. The key is to be able to grow them in an environment that is just right, which is what makes it so difficult (phys.org).

The newly developed research uses robotics and automation to test many drugs at once, with controllable environments to screen hPSCs in. This way, they can control the size of the colony, density, and other parameters in order to better study characteristics of the cells as they turn into other cell types (phys.org).

Now, bioengineers at UC Berkley have shown that biophysical signals can be converted into intracellular chemical signals that induce cells to change. Researchers are able to control the physical environment to more closely duplicate what a cell would experience in its native physiological environment. This way, “these physical cues are less invasive and artificial to the cell and therefore less likely to cause unintended side effects” (Timothy Downing, spacedaily.com).

Research on stem cell transplant methods is also improving. In any cell transplant procedure, the host organ may reject its new additions. Also current procedures require invasive surgical implants, which can be expensive and risky. The surgery can cause neural inflammation, and the implanted cells may die quickly (scientificamerican.com).
A solution to some of these issues could be the inhalation of the stem cells through intranasal administration. This eliminates surgery and research suggests that stem cells delivered intranasally are “smart”—they do not aimlessly spread throughout the brain but instead target the damaged cells (scientificamerican.com).

Advances in health and science are constantly increasing everyday. Although controversial to some, it is miraculous to many. Can stem cells be the cure to various injuries and disorders? We sure can’t wait to find out!

Reference:
http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics1.aspx
http://phys.org/news/2013-10-fate-stem-cells.html
http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Physical_cues_help_mature_cells_revert_into_embryonic_like_stem_cells_999.html
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=inhaled-stem-cells-might-replace-lost-neurons

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