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New embryo stem cell research findings

10 April 2000
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 53

A team of researchers based at Monash University in Melbourne and the National University of Singapore has managed to grow primitive muscle and nerve cells from human embryo stem cells (ES cells) in the laboratory. 'We are the first to show you can do that in a controlled fashion' said Dr Martin Pera of the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development.

Their findings have implications for research into new 'nerve cell transplant' treatments for illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Such transplants would require millions of nerve cells. At the moment, scientists can only get human ES cells to multiply in the laboratory if they are mixed with mouse cells - and even then, they have a tendency to turn into placenta-type cells.

But another team, based at the University of Edinburgh and the Osaka University, Japan, has identified a protein that may help solve these problems. The protein, called Oct-3/4, seems to act as a 'gatekeeper', making mouse ES cells develop into either further ES cells, placenta or body tissues. The team found that by finely-tuning levels of Oct-3/4, they could get mouse ES cells to multiply in the laboratory without specialising into body or placenta tissues. 

Ron McKay, of the US National Institutes of Health, believes that the Oct-3/4 work is very significant. He says that ES cells 'are going to become a central part of modern medicine'.

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