Researchers Convert Human Embryonic Stem Cells Into Blastocyst-Like Cells

Scientists have converted human embryonic stem cells to a state that is closer to the cells found in the human blastocyst.

AsianScientist (Dec. 12, 2013) – Researchers at A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) have converted human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) to a state that is closer to the cells found in the human blastocyst.

The findings are published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Pluripotent stem cells such as hESCs and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have the remarkable ability to differentiate into various cell types of the adult body while proliferating continuously in culture. In the field of regenerative medicine, these cells are potentially a limitless resource to generate cells of different body parts such as the eye, liver, brain, kidney and pancreas to treat degenerative diseases or replace of worn out organs.

Pluripotency is the essential property of the cells of the blastocyst in the early stages of human development. However, when cultured in the laboratory, these cells adopt molecular differences, which limit their use in therapeutic applications or disease modeling.

Using previously established hESCs, the researchers screened for culture conditions that could induce a stable change of cell state. They found that the use of a specific combination of small molecules and growth factors, termed 3iL, converted hESCs to a state that resembled cells within the native blastocysts.

The researchers also found that many genes that are active in blastocyst cells but inactive in hESCs were turned on again in this novel cell state. These re-activated genes also showed epigenetic differences.

“Every cell has a ‘memory,’ the epigenome, which is a layer on top of the genome that marks active and inactive genes,” said Dr. Jonathan Göke, a bioinformatician from GIS and co-author on the study. “When we looked into the epigenome of these 3iL cells, we found that this ‘memory’ was dramatically different; the cells appeared to be partly set back to the state of the embryo.”

To demonstrate how these 3iL hESCs can be used to obtain insights into human development, the researchers studied the regulatory system that controls these developmental genes.

“Studies of basic mechanisms like gene regulation require a large number of cells,” said Dr. Chan Yun Shen, co-lead author and researcher at GIS. “This is the first time that we are able to see how these genes are potentially regulated. While additional experiments will help to fully characterize these 3iL hESCs, we can already see that they provide an unprecedented way to study early human development without the use of any blastocysts.”

The article can be found at: Chan Y et al. (2013) Induction of a Human Pluripotent State with Distinct Regulatory Circuitry that Resembles Preimplantation Epiblast.


Source: A*STAR; Photo: UC Davis College of Engineering/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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