A new type of human stem cell generated at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia can become an alternative to embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells while developing new treatment solutions for various diseases and conditions, the last issue of Cell/Stem Cell tells. The cells called endodermal progenitor (EP) cells can give rise to various specialized cells of the body, such as pancreatic beta cells, liver cells or intestinal cells. At the same time, they lack some drawbacks of embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells.
To generate EP cells, the researchers used embryonic stem cells, which are derived from early embryos, and induced pluripotent stem cells, that are engineered from specialized cells such as blood or skin. Both cell types are pluripotent and have high proliferative ability, therefore, they are of enormous interest for scientists. To steer them into EP cells, the researchers used cytokines, or signaling molecules.
Unlike embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells, endodermal progenitor cells, when administered to the animal body, do not form tumors. To prevent teratoma (tumors containing various tissues) formation, cell lines received from embryonic or induced pluripotent stem cells need to be purified before transplantation to separate undifferentiated cells. In contrast, undifferentiated EP cells did not cause teratoma formation in the studies conducted by the team.
Moreover, in the laboratory, they were able to turn into insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells that exceed by their functional ability those derived from other stem cell types. When these cells were stimulated by glucose, they released insulin. Given that this function is either absent or significantly impaired in diabetic patients, these cells hold promise for diabetes treatment.
Apart from producing pancreatic beta-cells, the scientists also were able to direct differentiation of these EP cells into liver cells and intestinal cells.