Womens Health

Creating Embryonic Stem Cell Lines

The University of Michigan is psyched about its new project which focuses on deriving cell lines from human embryos and creating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) from adult skin cells. They believe this research will lead to cures for inherited diseases. But the project involved a great deal of collaboration between regulatory agencies, review boards, and an oversight committee.

Gary Smith, co-director of the university's Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies believes that the project also places into the spotlight one of the university's best traits: interdisciplinary research collaboration. Smith says that the consortium will be building on existing collaborative relationships between researchers from the university's College of Engineering, its Life Sciences Institute, the School of Dentistry, and the Medical School. "These stem cell lines will yield new insights into the causes and progression of inherited diseases," explained Smith. "Our cross-campus partnerships will enable us to integrate novel stem cell biological findings with recent advancements in engineering and material sciences to develop new disease treatments that will benefit patients."

Master Cells

Embryonic stem cells serve as master cells for the body. They replicate on a continuous basis and are the material from which over 200 human cell types are formed. The Michigan scientists believe that these productive cells, as well as the iPS cells that can copy them, may, in future, stand in to replace damaged cells or tissue contained by diseased organs. This field of medicine, just hatched, is called regenerative medicine. The university's formation of the Consortium for Stem Cell Therapies means the U of M is placed to become a forerunner and leader in this new field of research.

Doug Engel, who holds a chair in the cell and developmental biology department and another on the consortium's scientific advisory board says, "This initiative will help move the University of Michigan to the forefront of every aspect of stem cell biology. In addition to enabling important new science and clinical work, it puts us in an incredibly strong position to pursue any new federal funds that become available for embryonic stem cell research, and to recruit the brightest young scientists in the field."

Tiny Dot

In order to produce an embryonic cell line, the researchers will excise a group of cells from five-day-old embryos whose size approximates that of the punctuation mark known as the period. At this point in the embryo's development, the tissue is not yet specialized. The embryonic stem cells that are taken from the embryos are placed in dishes containing a medium that nourishes them, yet stops them from becoming specialized cell types.

The cells divide until they are so numerous they fill their dishes. They are then removed and placed into new culture dishes. This is called re-plating. If the cells survive re-plating several times over many months, it becomes obvious that a new embryonic stem cell line has been established. The new line will contain millions of cells containing identical genetic material.

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