March 21, 2008
MicroRNAs Tell Stem Cells To Become Heart Muscle

Heart rejuvenation is fundamentally a DNA programming problem. With enough knowledge about how to run the DNA software we can make stem cells become replacement cells in cardiac muscle and in the rest of the body.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA –March 5, 2008--Researchers at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (GICD) and the University of California, San Francisco have identified for the first time how tiny genetic factors called microRNAs may influence the differentiation of pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells into cardiac muscle. As reported in the journal Cell Stem Cell, scientists in the lab of GICD Director, Deepak Srivastava, MD, demonstrated that two microRNAs, miR-1 and miR-133, which have been associated with muscle development, not only encourage heart muscle formation, but also actively suppress genes that could turn the ES cells into undesired cells like neurons or bone.

“Understanding how pluripotent stem cells can be used in therapy requires that we understand the myriad processes and factors that influence cell fate,” said Dr. Srivastava. “This work shows that microRNAs can function both in directing how ES cells change into specific cells—as well as preventing these cells from developing into unwanted cell types.”

These microRNAs trigger gene activity that turns the embryonic stem cells into cardiac muscle. With more knowledge about the activity of hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of microRNAs we will be able to make large numbers of tissue types from stem cells. It is a matter of discovering a large number of possible ways to instruct cells to do our bidding.

How long will it take to figure which microRNA can tell which cell type to become which other cell type? I'm thinking that microfluidics will speed up this process by automating the testing of large numbers of microRNAs with large numbers of cell types. The rate of advance in stem cell manipulation will accelerate every year as microfluidic devices and other tools for lab automation allow the solution space to be searched orders of magnitude more rapidly.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 March 21 05:39 PM  Biotech Heart Cardiovascular

Fly said at March 21, 2008 6:41 PM:

"It is a matter of discovering a large number of possible ways to instruct cells to do our bidding."

Imagine small implantable cell reservoirs with semi-permeable walls that allow nutrients and waste exchange, powered by glucose, and remotely controlled by wireless communication. Inside are niches and channels that supply the proper mechanical and chemical signals for cell growth, division, and differentiation. (Synthetic bone marrow?) Seeded with high quality stem cells, the devices could be implanted wherever a supply of healthy precursors cells is needed. Under computer control, the stem cells would divide, differentiate, and be released into the local tissue. A few thousand cell lines would probably be sufficient to provide immune compatible cells lines for the entire populace so the devices could be mass produced. The surgical insertions should be routine and performed by robots under human supervision.

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