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Technique Devised to Improve Stem Cell Harvesting

Stem cell colony

Human embryonic stem cell colony (National Institute of General Medical Sciences)

22 January 2016. Researchers at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin developed a technique making it easier to detect stem cells and keep active longer in a cell culture. The team from the lab of molecular biologist Zsuzsanna Izsvák published its results in the 21 January issue of the journal Nature Protocols.

Izsvák and colleagues, including associates from Paul Ehrlich Institute in Germany and University of Bath in the U.K., are investigating better ways of finding and maintaining embryonic stem cells from cell cultures. These stem cells provide a rich source of therapies for regenerative medicine since they can transform into almost any type of cell in the body. True naive embryonic stem cells, however — those best able to develop into working human cells — are few in number and difficult to maintain in their pluripotent state for any length of time.

In a study published in the journal Nature in October 2014, Izsvák’s team identified an ancient inactive RNA virus residing in the human genome known as human endogenous retroviruses H or HERVH. The researchers found this retrovirus, seemingly without a function, binds with proteins that transcribe DNA into RNA in early-stage cells, and thus could serve as a flag for detecting embryonic stem cells.

In the new study, the researchers identified naive embryonic stem cells in lab cell cultures through their HERVH properties. They then tagged the stem cells with a green fluorescent reporter protein, which serves as an indicator of the cells, but also keeps the stem cells in a pluripotent state for longer periods, with resorting and replating.

“With our guidelines it should be possible for researchers all over the world to obtain these coveted stem cells and, possibly, to develop pioneering treatments with them,” says Izsvák in a Delbrück Center statement. The authors say the process can also be used with induced pluripotent stem cells that start with adult rather than embryonic cells, and raise fewer ethical concerns.

The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine is part of the Helmholtz Association. a network of research institutes in Germany, financed mainly with public funds.

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