Scientists Turn Stem Cells Into Liver And Pancreas Precursor Cells

Scientists have developed a method of turning human stem cells into a cell type that gives rise to organs including the liver and pancreas.

Asian Scientist (Feb. 5, 2014) – Scientists in Singapore have developed a novel method of directing human stem cells into a valuable cell type that gives rise to organs including the liver and pancreas.

This cell type, known as endoderm, is highly sought-after for therapeutic and biotechnological purposes. However, highly pure populations of endoderm have been historically difficult to attain from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs).

hPSCs are stem cells that can generate over 200 distinct cell types in the human body. They respond to multiple external protein instructions to differentiate into other cell types. Therefore, generating one single cell type from hPSCs, and a pure population of that given cell type, is delicate as hPSCs have a tendency to also form other types of cells.

In their paper, published in Cell Stem Cell, the researchers employed a systematic and novel approach in screening for proteins and chemicals that promote the formation of the desired cell type, and concurrently block induction of unwanted cell types. This strategy uncovered a combination of triggers that could drive hPSCs towards pure populations of endoderm.

According to the researchers, the valuable cells produced and the insights gained from this work have brought stem cells one step closer to clinical translation and furthered basic research into the understanding of how cell fates are specified during stem cell differentiation.

“This unprecedented access to highly pure population of endodermal cells attracts pharmaceutical companies, who are interested in further making human liver cells to tests drug toxicities,” said Dr Bing Lim, who led the study.

The team also characterized the transcriptional and enhancer states of these highly pure cells. Enhancers are DNA elements that can become activated to increase the expression of flanking genes. In hPSCs, a category of dormant enhancers was reported to be pre-configured before subsequently becoming activated when the cells differentiate.

The article can be found at: Loh KM et al. (2014) Efficient Endoderm Induction from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells by Logically Directing Signals Controlling Lineage Bifurcations.


Source: A*STAR; Photo: snre/Flickr/CC.
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