UC San Francisco researchers have for the first time developed a method to precisely control embryonic stem cell differentiation with beams of light, enabling them to be transformed into neurons in response to a precise external cue.
“We’ve discovered a basic mechanism the cell uses to decide whether to pay attention to a developmental cue or to ignore it,” said senior author Matthew Thomson, PhD, a researcher in the department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology at UCSF.
Thomson’s ambitious big idea is to use the light-inducible differentiation technology his group has developed to study how stem cells produce complex tissues in three dimensions. He imagines a day when researchers can illuminate a bath of undifferentiated stem cells with a pattern of different colors of light and come back the next day to find a complex pattern of blood and nerve and liver tissue forming an organ that can be transplanted into a patient.
ARTHRITIS sufferers could be offered cartilage replacements within five years after a breakthrough by British scientists.
Treatment for the crippling condition is currently limited to basic pain relief or complex joint replacement surgery.
But trials using stem cells have shown “astonishing” results with tissue almost as good as new after just three months.
Professor Sue Kimber, who led the research, said: “This work represents an important step forward in treating cartilage damage using embryonic stem cells to form new tissue.
“It may offer a new line of therapy for people with crippling joint pain and we now need this process to be developed for patients.”
Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage at the ends of bones wears away causing severe pain and stiffness.
Researchers say the latest experiments show the procedure could potentially be a “safe and effective treatment” for more than eight million people who suffer from joint damage and inflammation.
In the experiments, led by teams at Manchester University and Arthritis Research UK, discarded embryonic stem cells from IVF clinics were transformed into cartilage cells.
These were transplanted into rats with defective joints.
Tests showed the high-quality artificially grown tissue quickly aided the repair of the joint.
The experiments have excited researchers because they were able to generate new healthy-looking cartilage without signs of damaging side effects.
Although cartilage cells created from adult stem cells are being used experimentally they cannot be produced in large amounts because the procedure is prohibitively expensive.
But embryonic stem cells’ capacity to multiply quickly offers the possibility of high-volume cartilage production.