Stem Cells, the Play Doh of Cell Therapy

Stem Cells, the Play Doh of Cell Therapy

By: Alex Parrott

Stem cells are constantly bringing new light to all areas of organ studies involving therapeutic means of treatment for disease complications. One such area where they can play a major role is with insulin secretion in the pancreas. Pluripotent stem cells (PSC) are a hot topic since they can be formed and molded (like play doh!) into many different types of cells. Given the formability of these cells, human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPS cells) open up many opportunities for therapies where the addition of stem cells could repair or aid in the reversal of some cellular deterioration. 

A team at the Southern University of Science and Technology in China has developed a microfluidic chip to help understand hiPS cells and what characteristics they have as they develop into other cells. Since stem cell differentiation can have numerous combinations of factors, it is important to understand what factors are involved in order to determine the proper outcome. With copious factors, this can prove difficult and nearly impossible to do, but with the microfluidic chip, it has been made easier. The chip allows for a solution to be inputted to descend different pathways enabling different reporter genes and fluorescent proteins inside each pathway. The application and number of factors being tested will determine the gene inside of each pathway as well as the number of pathways used. The output is then studied, and based on the intensity of the reporter genes, researchers can then determine what factors are in the hiPS. The team tested their design by comparing hiPS cells and dual expresser (DE) cells. They used three reporter genes, Oct4, Sox17 and FoxA2 along with fluorescent proteins mCherry, EGFP and tagBFP to visually differentiate between the genes when they express. Their results were positive and show how useful this chip can be in cases where there are an innumerable number of factors being studied.

So how can this be used for diabetes?

The Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard and Dr. Rezania’s teams have done research on generating functional pancreatic beta cells and the reversal of diabetes using hiPS. Their studies show positive results when used in mice, but when compared to the function of mature beta cells, there are differences. Using the microfluidic chip, they could compare the stem cell derived beta (SC-β) cells to key markers in mature beta cells. This could give a better understanding of the mature beta cells, which in turn could allow more accurate SC-β cell development in the future. 

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