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New stem cell type discovered

20 April 2015

By Sophie McLachlan

Appeared in BioNews 798

A new type of stem cell has been discovered that has the ability to transform into a larger number of cell types than both human embryonic (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

This novel stem cell line, created from the addition of a factor known as bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)4 to human pluripotent stem cells (PSCs), is totipotent, meaning the stem cells can not only make all the cells of the embryo but also other cells, including those of the placenta, which are needed to support a developing embryo.

Michael Roberts, professor of animal science at the University of Missouri, USA, and lead author of the study, said: 'BMP-primed cells represent a transitional stage of development between embryonic stem cells and their ultimate developmental fate, whether that is placenta cells, or skin cells or brain cells.

'We can use these new stem cells for future research to better understand how embryos are organized and what causes diseases like pre-eclampsia and other prenatal problems.'

The finding, reported in PNAS, was stumbled upon by chance as Professor Roberts and his team attempted to transform hESCs to placental cells by the addition of BMP4.

The scientists found that addition of BMP4 for a shorter time period than had previously been done, as well as the addition of inhibitors of stem cell pluripotency, left hESCs in a half-way house or 'transitional' stem cell state, rather than turning them into placental cells as expected.

'Previously, the common thought was that embryonic stem cells transitioned straight from stem cells to their end products,' explained Professor Roberts. 'These new stem cells made us realise that embryonic stem cells exist in a number of different transitional states, which likely resemble those encountered in the early stages of embryos.'

He concludes that this novel stem cell line should not only herald advances in placental-related health conditions but to more efficient stem cell research in general.

'We now have new stem cells that are easier to manipulate since they are already at the key transitional precipice before changing into placenta cells, skin cells or any other kind of cell that makes up the human body,' he said.

PNAS | 13 April 2015
Eurekalert (press release) | 16 April 2015
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News | 17 April 2015
UPI | 16 April 2015


21 March 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
Scientists have created human stem cells with 23 chromosomes instead of 46, the normal number in a complete genome contained in almost all cells...
11 May 2015 - by Dr Tamara Hirsch 
Scientists have identified a new type of stem cell that shows distinct advantages over those discovered to date, and which could potentially be used to grow human organs in animals such as pigs or cows...

09 February 2015 - by Chris Baldacci 
Scientists have developed a technique to lengthen telomeres - the 'caps' on the end of chromosomes that protect DNA - in human cells in the lab, increasing the cells' lifespan...
12 January 2015 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
For the first time, researchers have succeeded in creating human sperm and egg precursor cells from stem cells...
15 December 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
A new type of stem cell has been developed in the lab, in research described as 'groundbreaking'...
15 September 2014 - by Rhys Baker 
Human pluripotent stem cells have been 'reset' to resemble embryonic stem cells at the earliest developmental state yet achieved...
01 September 2014 - by Dr Nicoletta Charolidi 
Efforts to replicate the STAP cell findings have not been successful so far, the RIKEN Institute has reported...

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