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Stem Cell Study Overcomes Major Hurdle in Organ Regeneration

Apr 05, 2014 06:08 AM EDT
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U.Va. scientists Bernard and Chris Thisse have created a zebrafish embryo by instructing stem cells.
U.Va. scientists Bernard and Chris Thisse have created a zebrafish embryo by instructing stem cells.
(Photo : University of Virginia School of Medicine )

University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers reported that they turned embryonic stem cells into a fish embryo by manipulating certain biological signals. The study could advance organ re-generation using stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells are cells obtained from the embryo. These cells are pluripotent, meaning that they can grow or differentiate into other kinds of cells that form the tissues and organs.

U.Va, researchers have said that they have overcome a major barrier in biology. Researchers demonstrated that tweaking some early signals can coax stem cells to form an embryo. In other words, they have come close to controlling the embryonic development.

What's even more interesting is that researchers found that just two molecular signals were enough to start a cascade of molecular pathways that led to the development of the zebrafish embryo.

 Their research showed that "opposing gradients of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) and Nodal," are enough to kick-start the development of the embryo, according to an abstract. Both BMP and Nodal are morphogens, meaning that they control the pattern of tissue development.

Research has shown that BMP signaling is important in the formation of heart, neural and cartilage development. BMP is also associated with postnatal bone formation.

"We have generated an animal by just instructing embryonic cells the right way," said Chris Thisse of the School of Medicine's Department of Cell Biology.

In the future, scientists might grow tissues, organs and even entire organisms using stem cells, Gizmodo reported.

"If we know how to instruct embryonic cells," Thisse said in a news release, "we can pretty much do what we want."

The embryo developed in the current study was smaller than a regular zebra fish embryo. That's because researchers worked with a small set of stem cells, but "otherwise he has everything," said Bernard Thisse of the Department of Cell Biology.

Next, researchers will be working with mice to see if they can alter the molecular signalling and get stem cells to develop into mice embryo. According to the study team, the findings of the research might apply to higher mammals and even humans.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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