February 26, 2010
Embryonic Epigenetic State Mapped

A group of scientists has systematically mapped state changes in embryonic cells as they turn into the various types of cells needed to form organs and a complete organism. This information is needed, for example, to figure out how to coax stem cells into forming replacement organs.

LA JOLLA, CA February 2, 2010 Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute and The Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) led an international effort to build a map that shows in detail how the human genome is modified during embryonic development. This detailed mapping is a significant move towards the success of targeted differentiation of stem cells into specific organs, which is a crucial consideration for stem cell therapy.

The study was published in the genomics journal Genome Research on February 4, 2010.

"The cells in our bodies have the same DNA sequence," said Scripps Research Professor Jeanne Loring, who is a senior author of the paper with Chia-Lin Wei of the Genome Institute of Singapore and the National University of Singapore and Isidore Rigoutsos of IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center. "Epigenetics is the process that determines what parts of the genome are active in different cell types, making a nerve cell, for example, different from a muscle cell."

Making stem cells into useful therapy amounts in large part to getting control of methylation patterns on the DNA and manipulating other aspects of epigenetic state. To put it another way: Scientists need to the ability to measure and manipulate the regulatory state of cells.

The genome is a few billion base pairs. Lots of methyl groups and proteins are basically parked at precise locations all over the DNA preventing some parts of the DNA from getting activated while allowing other parts to get read and used to operate the cell. How hard will it turn out to be to get all that regulatory state just right for cell therapies? If things do not go just right the risks include cancer, creation of the wrong cell types in the wrong places, and incomplete repair.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 February 26 05:27 PM  Biotech Stem Cells

Brett Bellmore said at March 1, 2010 3:52 AM:

I've long thought that, since what we want for treatment are stem cells that have already decided to become a particular sort of tissue, what we need is a way to permanently disable those parts of the developmental program that don't lead to the desired end states. If we could create cell lines that ONLY became livers, or ONLY became kidneys, and carefully rendered immunologically neutral somehow, they could be individualized for patients by adding an artificial chromosome that matched them to the recipient. There's really no reason stem cells used to treat a skin disease, for instance, need to know how to become bone.

Creating cell lines with simplified developmental programs would probably render them more resistant to cancer, too.

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