Stem cells have the ability to regenerate tissue, but they can’t be used widely in medicine until scientists are certain how to control them. In experiments on mice a growth factor – erythropoietin (EPO) – is found to be important in controlling a type of stem cell generated by the placenta during pregnancy. These cells develop into the various kinds that form the infant’s blood; some remain in reserve to make blood in later life. If EPO is over-produced these ‘reserve’ stem cells begin to develop prematurely. In the right-hand image, too much EPO triggers the cells (each cell centre, or nucleus, is stained blue) to behave like blood. Blood cells in a mouse foetus form clusters. Normal levels of EPO (left) keep these stem cells in ‘reserve’ mode. Researchers will use this knowledge to expand the repertoire of safe stem cell therapies.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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