Bioethics Blogs

Stem Cell Research: New Recipes for Regenerative Medicine

Caption: From stem cells to bone. Human bone cell progenitors, derived from stem cells, were injected under the skin of mice and formed mineralized structures containing cartilage (1-2) and bone (3).
Credit: Loh KM and Chen A et al., 2016

To help people suffering from a wide array of injuries and degenerative diseases, scientists and bioengineers have long dreamed of creating new joints and organs using human stem cells. A major hurdle on the path to achieving this dream has been finding ways to steer stem cells into differentiating into all of the various types of cells needed to build these replacement parts in a fast, efficient manner.

Now, an NIH-funded team of researchers has reported important progress on this front. The researchers have identified for the first time the precise biochemical signals needed to spur human embryonic stem cells to produce 12 key types of cells, and to do so rapidly. With these biochemical “recipes” in hand, researchers say they should be able to generate pure populations of replacement cells in a matter of days, rather than the weeks or even months it currently takes. In fact, they have already demonstrated that their high-efficiency approach can be used to produce potentially therapeutic amounts of human bone, cartilage, and heart tissue within a very short time frame.

The study, reported in the journal Cell, was led by students Kyle Loh and Angela Chen and senior authors Irving Weissman of Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA and Lay Teng Ang of the Genome Institute of Singapore. They were interested specifically in how embryonic stem cells commit to making cell types derived from the mesoderm, one of the initial embryonic germ layers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.