Worms aid understanding of stem cells

Jan. 12, 2010 at 2:22 PM
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MADISON, Wis., Jan. 12 (UPI) -- The study of simple roundworms is helping explain the stem cell's ability to develop into any cell type in the body, scientists in Wisconsin said.

Using the small roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, scientists at the University of Wisconsin in Madison are learning about the biological workings that control the maturation process of stem cells.

A network of regulatory factors maintains a stable pool of stem cells while launching a second pool of cells on the path toward maturing into differentiated cells with specific functions, university biochemist Judith Kimble wrote in this week's edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Regulation of the transition from stem cell to mature cell is important because a disruption of the balance between the two states could lead to tumors or an inability to maintain healthy tissue, she said.

Many of the same molecules in worms control stem cell development in humans and are involved in aberrant conditions, such as leukemia and other cancers, Kimble said.

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