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UCI researchers discover key factor for survival of human embryonic stem cells

Human embryonic stem cells (hES) offer great hope for the treatment of some devastating diseases, but finding a way to keep enough of these cells usable and healthy for transplantation in patients has been an ongoing problem. Now scientists at UC Irvine have discovered a way to keep large quantities of these cells alive, a finding that could potentially lead to mass production of hES cells for therapeutic use at lower cost.

These findings appear in a paper in the early online version of the journal Nature Biotechnology.

UCI stem cell researchers Peter Donovan and Leslie Lock, along with April Pyle of Johns Hopkins University, found that molecules known as neurotrophins have a significant effect on whether hES cells survive in the laboratory. Although stem cells have the ability to self-renew and to differentiate into any cell in the body, it has been a challenge to keep them alive as single cells in an undifferentiated state.

In their studies, Donovan and Lock added neurotrophins to hES cells in the laboratory to see the effect they would have on cell survival. Neurotrophins normally encourage the survival of tissue in the nervous system. When three members of the family of neurotrophin growth factors brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin 3 (NT-3), and neurotrophin 4 (NT-4) were added to hES cells in culture, the cells' survival increased 36-fold.

"Keeping hES cells alive as single cells has been extremely difficult," Donovan said. "This fact has kept us from producing enough cells to be useful for therapy, and has limited our ability to genetically manipulate the cells, which we must do before they can be transplanted into patients. It appears that if we treat hES cells with neurotrophins, we can produce more of them faster and, hopefully, at much lower cost."

Understanding the role that neurotrophins play in stem cell survival could also help researchers with another major problem they face in us
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Contact: Farnaz Khadem
fkhadem@uci.edu
949-824-5484
University of California - Irvine
16-Feb-2006


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