research explained

Unique technology combination pinpoints the genetic signature of a blood stem cell

Although all the cells in a colony of blood cells may look alike, they may have different functions.  Tools to track and analyse individual stem cells within a cell population like this can help us better understand how the blood system works, and may have implications for cancer research.

New clues into how stem cells get their identity

Scientists at DanStem, the Danish Stem Cell Centre, University of Copenhagen have identified one mechanism that explains how some stem cells choose to become a given cell type: the cells combine specific sets of proteins at precise positions along the DNA. When these particular groups of proteins are combined, the gates are opened so that certain groups of genes can now be used, driving the cells towards a new identity.

Researchers discover back door into the cell

Researchers at the Hubrecht Institute and Utrecht University have developed a revolutionary and effective way of introducing molecular tools into cells. According to Dr. Niels Geijsen, who headed the research team, this discovery brings us one step closer to treating genetic diseases:

“The difficulty of treating genetic (inherited) diseases is that we, thus far, are unable to safely transport large therapeutic compounds, for example, proteins, into cells,” explains Geijsen. “ With our new technology, we’ve found that we can do this very efficiently.”

Direct reprogramming: another way of making human neurons

Direct reprogramming of cells (also called direct cell-fate conversion) is where one fully differentiated cell type changes directly into another. In the past, researchers thought this was impossible, especially for generating human neurons.  Now it has been shown to be not only possible, but also potentially simpler than other methods of creating neurons, such as creating induced pluripotent (iPS) cells to be subsequently differentiated into neurons.

Capturing the primordial human stem cells in the lab

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered a method to “reset” human embryonic stem cells to an earlier developmental stage, producing a type of stem cell up to now only seen in rodents.

Using time-lapse imagery to take a closer look at human embryonic stem cells

Time-lapse imaging and tracking of single human embryonic stem cells has allowed researchers to zoom in and take a closer look at the behaviour of these special cells. Researchers from the University of Sheffield have identified multiple bottlenecks that restrict the growth of these cells in the laboratory, and observed complex and diverse behaviour as the cells move around the culture dish and interact with their neighbours. These findings will help researchers design the best conditions to safely and efficiently grow human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. 

New study raises doubts over the benefits of heart stem cell therapy

Summary

Numerous clinical trials have attempted to test the benefits of using a patient’s own stem cells (taken from the bone marrow) to treat heart disease. Results have been conflicting; some claim significant improvements in heart function, whilst others report none at all. A group at Imperial College London investigated the possible reasons for this inconsistency and found strange, unexplained discrepancies within reports of many of the clinical trials. They have identified a link between claimed success rates and discrepancies, casting doubts over the validity of this treatment.

- 133 reports of 49 clinical trials were investigated
- 600+ discrepancies were found
- Discrepancies ranged from minor to serious mistakes and misrepresentation of data
- Reports with the most discrepancies claimed most benefit to patients, while those without discrepancies showed no improvement in patients’ conditions 

What's behind this study?

What's behind this study?Cartoon describing the idea behind a study published in Nature NeuroScience in July 2013 and described in our Research explained section.

New strategy for brain repair in multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects over 400,000 people in the EU, causing problems with vision, movement and speech. In MS, the protective layer that surrounds nerves in the brain and spinal cord, called myelin, is destroyed. As the disease progresses, this damage often goes unchecked because the regenerative process for replacing myelin (‘remyelination’) fails. There are currently no approved therapies that tackle this problem by promoting remyelination. Researchers hope a new study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience will contribute to the development of new therapies by helping to explain how remyelination is controlled. The scientists studied immune cells called macrophages, which are involved in remyelination. They found that the macrophages must become anti-infammatory for remyelination to proceed, and identified a protein released by macrophages which encourages remyelination.

Research explained: new 'research spotlights' for patients

Patients have told us they want to know about research: What are scientists studying now? What are they finding out? And how do these findings contribute to progress towards new treatments? Our partner OptiStem, an EU-funded stem cell research project, has been working on a way to help answer these questions.

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