An engineer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) has developed a software program that can not only predict the types of specialized cells a stem cell will produce, but also foresee the outcome before the stem cell even divides.
Created by Andrew Cohen, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, the software analyzes time-lapse images capturing live stem cell behaviours.
It will allow scientists to search for mechanisms that control stem cell specialization, the main obstacle in advancing the use of stem cell therapy for treatment of disease.
It could also lead to new research into causes of cancer, which involves cells that continuously self-renew.
Stem cells play a key role in human development, and also offer the potential to repair tissues or organs damaged by disease or injury.
But, in order to use stem cell-based therapies, biologists need to better understand the mechanisms that control stem cell differentiation.
"This is a brand-new set of tools for developmental biologists and it supports an area where no other predictive solutions exist," Cohen said.
The software is 87 percent accurate in determining the specific "offspring" a stem cell will ultimately produce, and 99 percent accurate in predicting when self-renewal of these stem cells will end in specialization.
The research is published Feb. 7 in the journal Nature Methods.