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Stem cells are inflated: We are one step closer to making organs in a dish

Using a mouse model, researchers have deciphered an alternative path taken by certain cells to make organs and used that knowledge to utilize a new type of stem cell as a potential source of organs in a dish.

Imagine if you could repair damaged tissue in our organs. This is what stem cell research is working towards, as stem cells have an enormous potential to produce cells in organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines.

For decades, researchers have tried to mimic the path that stem cells follow to form e.g. organ and embryo. But despite extensive efforts, it has been very difficult to get cells to develop properly in the lab. But they may have overlooked an important step and may have lacked another type of stem cell, suggests a new study from the University of Copenhagen.

“In very simple terms, a number of recent studies have tried to make a gut from stem cells in a dish. We have found a new way to do this, a way that follows different aspects of what happens in the embryo. Here we found a new way that the embryo uses, and we describe the intermediate stage that different types of stem cells can use to make the gut and other organs, says PhD student at Martin Proks, one of the lead authors of the study from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine at the University of Copenhagen (reNEW).

The researchers looked at so-called pluripotent stem cells and endoderm extra-embryonic stem cells. Extra-embryonic endoderm cells are a new stem cell line that the same research group described a couple of years ago. They contribute to the intestinal organs by being very important support cells that provide membranes, nutrition to the membranes and more.

Group leader and professor Joshua Brickman at reNEW explains:

“We have identified an alternative route that so-called extraembryonic cells can use to make intestinal organs in the embryo. We then took our extraembryonic endoderm stem cells and developed them into intestinal organ-like structures in the dish.”

“But until recently, people assumed that these cells helped the embryo to develop and then they are gone. That they have nothing to do with your body. So in this article we discovered that if we control these support cells through this new alternative way, they would actually form organoid structures “, says Joshua Brickman about the results, which were published in Nature’s cell biology.

Can improve laboratory cultured cells

The researchers identified all potential cells that were candidates for forming organs associated with the digestive tract, such as the liver, pancreas, lung and intestine, based on labeling them with a genetic marker. These large data are difficult to analyze and required innovative new approaches to analysis that were developed in collaboration with physical researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute.

“We then identified the genes used in these cells. To facilitate this work, we developed a new computational tool to compare clusters of cells and used this both to compare cells in our own data set and to examine others,” explains Associate Professor Ala Trusina at Niels Bohr Institute.

To ask if the alternative route could develop organ cell types in the lab, the researchers began using a different type of stem cell. These stem cells, described earlier in the article, come from a different part of the embryo than pluripotent stem cells, and they are similar to the starting point of the second or alternative pathway for organ formation.

“We then used these stem cells to create organ-like structures in the gut of a dish. The findings suggest that both pathways could work. Using the alternative pathway can help laboratory-grown cells form functional cells and treat and study diseases,” says Michaela Rothova. . one of the other lead authors of the study.

This can prove to be an important discovery, as researchers have long tried to crack the code for how to develop stem cells into the right cells needed for a specific treatment, test drugs or model a disease.

“We have not really gotten there in terms of function, and we have problems maturing these cells. So maybe we can solve some of these problems by trying this alternative route or by combining the alternative route with the traditional route” , Joshua Brickman concludes at Renew.

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