Genetically engineered stem cells that only become the desired functional cell type
In patients suffering from type I diabetes, high blood sugar levels are caused by the immune system attacking pancreatic beta cells, which produce the regulatory hormone insulin. Potential treatments, based on transplanting new beta cells derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), are approaching clinical trials, but these methods have limitations. hESCs can give rise to multiple cell types, so many unwanted cells are produced, including some undifferentiated cells that could continue to divide and ultimately form tumours. To avoid this, researchers engineered specialised stem cells (pictured, with nuclei in blue and stem cell markers in green and red), with genes that destroy any cell that either fails to differentiate or does not produce insulin. As only functional beta cells survive to be transplanted into patients, this ingenious technique should improve the success of these new therapies, and could generally help more reliably produce useful cell types from stem cells.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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