On August 16, UCLA stem cell researchers published a new study in the journal Cell Research. The researchers, from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, compared three types of cells derived from human embryonic stem cells to induced pluripotent stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) are adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to an embryonic stem cell–like state. The researchers found that the two types of cells are similar to each other; however, they are much more developmentally immature than previously thought when compared to those same cell types taken directly from human tissue. They found that the progeny (offspring) of the human embryonic stem cells and iPS were more similar to cells found within the first two months of fetal development than anything later. This could have implications both clinically and for disease modeling, said William Lowry, senior author of the study and an assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology in the Life Sciences. “Once we found that the human embryonic stem cell- and the iPS-derived progeny were similar, we wanted to understand how similar the progeny were to the same cells taken directly from human tissue,” Lowry said. “What we found, looking at gene expression, was that the cells we derived were similar to cells found in early fetal development and were functionally much more immature than cells taken from human tissue. This finding may lead to exciting new ways to study early human development, but it also may present a challenge for transplantation, because the cells you end up with are not something that’s indicative of a cell you’d find in an adult or even in a newborn baby.”
There might also be challenges in disease modeling, unless you’re modeling diseases that occur within the first two months of development, Lowry said. Employing the most commonly used methods for deriving cells from embryonic stem cells and iPS cells, Lowry and his team differentiated these human pluripotent stem cells into neural progenitor cells, which create neurons and glia, hepatocytes, the main tissue found in the liver, and fibroblasts, common to the skin. They selected those cell types because they are easy to identify and are among the most commonly differentiated cells made from pluripotent stem cells. They also represent cell types found in the three germ layers, the endoderm, mesoderm and ectoderm, where the first cell fate decisions are made, Lowry said.
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