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Stem cell discovery may lead to new treatments for placenta complications

28 September 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1065

A new way to create stem cells that are able to produce placenta tissue has been discovered, potentially leading to new treatments for placenta complications that may arise during pregnancy.

A collaborative research team from Australia and Singapore studied the molecular changes that occur when adult skin cells become induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Whilst undertaking this study they made the unexpected discovery of a method to produce stem cells that are able to differentiate into placenta tissue.

Professor Jose Polo, who led the study, said 'This is really important, because iPSCs cannot give rise to the placenta, thus all the advances in disease modelling and cell therapy that iPSCs have brought about did not translate to the placenta'.

The ability to produce human organ tissue from stem cells is a widely known process. Adult skin cells are able to be genetically reprogrammed into iPSCs, which can then be used to develop human organ tissue. The production of human tissues in this way has been very important, as it has enabled new opportunities for personalised cell therapies and regenerative medicine.

However, these stem cells are unable to differentiate into placenta cells, and the pathway and mechanism that allows adult skin cells to be reprogrammed into iPSCs has been largely unknown.

Professor Polo's team found that during the reprogramming pathway the adult skin cells entered a trophoblast-like state. The trophoblast is a collection of cells which forms the outer layer of the structure found in the early development of an embryo. They found that this trophoblast-like state could be captured, and cells in this state were then able to be reprogrammed into induced trophoblast stem cells (iTSCs). The iTSCs are then able to give rise to placenta tissue.

Dr Owen Rackham, co-lead author of the study, said: 'This study demonstrates how by successfully combining both cutting edge experimental and computational tools, basic science leads to unexpected discoveries that can be transformative.'

According to the international research team, these results open up the potential for the development of new treatments for placenta complications that may arise during pregnancy, and the measurement of drug toxicity to placenta cells, which also has implications during pregnancy.

This research was recently published in Nature.

A new discovery in regenerative medicine
Duke NUS Medical School |  16 September 2020
New stem cell technique could create placenta tissue
Futurity |  18 September 2020
Reprogramming roadmap reveals route to human induced trophoblast stem cells
Nature |  16 September 2020
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