Novel Stem Cell Technique may Better Disease Study

by VR Sreeraman on  March 8, 2008 at 1:50 PM Genetics & Stem Cells News
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Novel Stem Cell Technique may Better Disease Study
American researchers have developed a novel stem cell technique that may make it easier to study and treat thousands of disorders, including Huntington's disease, muscular dystrophy, and diabetes.

The developers of the new technique at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) describe it as a dramatically improved method for genetically manipulating human embryonic stem cells.

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As regards how the technique works, the researchers have revealed that it blends two existing cell-handling methods to improve cell survival rates, and to increase the efficiency of inserting DNA into cells.

They claim that this procedure is 100 times more efficient than current methods at producing human embryonic stem cells with desired genetic alterations.

"The ability to generate large quantities of cells with altered genes opens the door to new research into many devastating disorders," said Peter Donovan, professor of biological chemistry and developmental and cell biology at UCI, and co-director of the UCI Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center.

"Not only will it allow us to study diseases more in-depth, it also could be a key step in the successful development of future stem cell therapies," he added.

In a previous study, which Professor Donovan carried out in collaboration with Assistant Adjunct Professor Leslie Lock, the research team had identified proteins called growth factors that help keep cells alive by telling them how to behave or remain a stem cell.

In the current study, Professor Donovan's team used the same growth factors to keep cells alive, and then inserted DNA into the cells using a technique called nucleofection — a process in which electrical pulses are used to punch tiny holes in the outer layer of a cell.

The researchers say that with nucleofection, scientists can introduce into cells DNA that makes proteins that glow green under a special light.

In a report describing the process, published in the journal Stem Cells, they say that the green colour makes it possible to track the movement of cells once they are transplanted into an animal model, which in turn makes it easier to identify the cells during safety studies of potential stem cell therapies.

These days, DNA are inserted into cells using chemicals, but that method can kill the cells sometimes, and is inefficient at transferring genetic information.

UCI scientists reckon that for every one genetically altered cell generated using the chemical method, the new growth factor/nucleofection method produces between 10 and 100 successfully modified cells.

"Before our technique, genetic modification of human embryonic stem cells largely was inefficient. This is a stepping stone for bigger things to come," said Kristi Hohenstein, a stem cell scientist in Donovan's lab.

The researchers say that with the new technique, scientists can develop populations of cells with abnormalities that lead to disease, and study them to learn more about the disorder and how it is caused.

According to them, the novel method may also facilitate the correction of the disorder in stem cells so that healthy cells can be used in a treatment.

Source: ANI

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