Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Skeleton Key

Retinoic acid prompts stem cells to become bone-producing cells

26 June 2019

Skeleton Key

When studying the molecular intricacies of human health, it’s easiest if scientists can start with samples in the lab to save human subjects from endless poking and prodding. But some samples are easier to produce than others, and bone has always been tricky. Lab-grown bone formations are an important tool for scientists studying everything from healthy formation to what goes wrong in countless diseases, but inducing bone to grow in the lab is slow and hard to reproduce. A new study found that retinoic acid can prompt stem cells [starter cells with very wide potential] to develop into cells that resemble human osteoblasts [bone-producing cells] and osteocytes [bone cells] when implanted in mice. In as little as 10 days the cells had taken shape (pictured), displaying the potential for this new technique as a tool for studying how our body builds bone, and why it sometimes goes wrong.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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