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Stem Cells Know Their Destination

Human pluripotent stem cells have their preferences as regards the specialized cell types they would like to produce, the new study shows. The finding has been published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Until recently, it was thought that stem cells make no difference as what type of 226 human specialized cell types to become, but the finding of researchers from the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute disproves this belief. Pluripotent stem cells most readily would produce specialized cells they are programmed to giving rise to. Still, when forced, they can produce any of the specialized cell types, but not as effectively as they produce their predestined cells.

The study focused on how pluripotent stem cells turn into specialized cell types, in particular, into neural and blood cells. The researchers found out that destination of stem cells depended on their DNA arrangement, which manifested itself by specific protein markers on the stem cell surface. They could force the stem cell what would normally give rise to a neural cell to turn into a blood cell and vice versa, but the number of specialized cells produced was much lower than would be should the cells be given the chance to turn into their predestined cell types.

In particular, when the researchers allowed pluripotent cells to turn into their ‘beloved’ cell type, they could get twelve types as many neural cells and five times as many blood cells compared to the situation when these cells were produced by stem cells that were predestined to form other cell types.

Research results allow for better understanding which cells to use in a particular case in order to regenerate organs and tissues. As a next step, the researchers aim to understand how the process works in adult skin derived pluripotent stem cells.