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Scientists develop early stage embryonic stem cells

The earlier stem cells could help with regenerative medicine treatment of damaged organs and research into chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome.
By Stephen Feller   |   March 4, 2016 at 3:18 PM

CAMBRIDGE, England, March 4 (UPI) -- Scientists in England developed a technique to derive naive pluripotent stem cells from human embryos, which they say could lead to advances in regenerative medicine and push forward research on disorders such as Down syndrome.

The technique, described in a study published in the journal Stem Cell Reports, is significant because current methods of obtaining stem cells can be difficult, and those cells often still contain instructions to become a specific cell type.

Naive pluripotent stem cells are the earliest incarnation of the cells before they have differentiated into the types of cells found in different organs and parts of the body.

While researchers have two resources for pluripotent stem cells -- embryonic stem cells derived from fertilized eggs discarded from IVF procedures and skin cells that have been induced into becoming stem cells -- both have been "primed" to differentiate into other cell types.

In addition to opening up new methods of research -- such as how Down syndrome occurs during cell development -- scientists said earlier stem cells could make it easier to develop cells needed for regeneration of damaged organs and tissues, including those that do not regenerate very well, such as the heart, brain and pancreas.

"Until now, it hasn't been possible to isolate these naive stem cells, even though we've had the technology to do it in mice for 30 years -- leading some people to doubt it would be possible," Ge Guo, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, said in a press release.

Five days after an egg is fertilized, the embryonic cells cluster together to form the blastocyst before it is implanted in the uterus. It contains three cell types: one that develops into the placenta, another that forms the yolk sac and delivers nutrients to the fetus and a third type that develops into the fetus.

The scientists found a way to extract the cells that develop into the fetus, separating them so they can no longer communicate and differentiate. Once cultured separately, the the cells continued to grow and differentiate.

Naive pluripotent stem cells, above, which were derived from human embryos. Photo by University of Cambridge

In addition to the potential for regenerative medicine for patients with damaged organs, the scientists said naive pluripotent stem cells would improve research on disorders related to an abnormal number of chromosomes, such as Down syndrome.

"Even in many 'normal' early-stage embryos, we find several cells with an abnormal number of chromosomes," Dr. Jenny Nichols, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, said. "Because we can separate the cells and culture them individually, we could potentially generate 'healthy' and 'affected' cell lines. This would allow us to generate and compare tissues of two models, one 'healthy' and one that is genetically identical other than the surplus chromosome."

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