Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Beacons light up stem cell transformation

12.09.2012
In a new study, Brown University researchers demonstrate a new tool for visually tracking in real-time the transformation of a living population of stem cells into cells of a specific tissue. The “molecular beacons,” which could advance tissue engineering research, light up when certain genes are expressed and don’t interfere with the development or operation of the stem cells.

A novel set of custom-designed “molecular beacons” allows scientists to monitor gene expression in living populations of stem cells as they turn into a specific tissue in real-time.


Beacons for bone
Glowing green spots in these MG-63 bone cells (each blue dot is a nucleus) indicate that a fluorescent “beacon” molecule has bound to RNA produced by expression of the bone-specific ALPL gene. Credit: Darling Lab/Brown University

The technology, which Brown University researchers describe in a new study, provides tissue engineers with a potentially powerful tool to discover what it may take to make stem cells transform into desired tissue cells more often and more quickly. That’s a key goal in improving regenerative medicine treatments.

“We’re not the inventors of molecular beacons but we have used it in a way that hasn’t been done before, which is to do this in long-term culture and watch the same population change in a reliable and harmless way,” said graduate student Hetal Desai, lead author of the paper published online Sept. 5, 2012, in the journal Tissue Engineering Part A.

In their research, Desai and corresponding author Eric Darling, assistant professor of biology in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biotechnology, designed their beacons to fluoresce when they bind to mRNA from three specific genes in fat-derived stem cells that are expressed only when the stem cells are transforming into bone cells.

Throughout 21 days of their development, the cells in the experiments remained alive and unfettered, Desai said, except that some populations received a chemical inducement toward becoming bone and others did not. Over those three weeks, the team watched the populations for the fluorescence of the beacons to see how many stem cells within each population were becoming bone and the timing of each gene expression milestone.

The beacons’ fluorescence made it easy to see a distinct pattern in that timing. Expression of the gene ALPL peaked first in more than 90 percent of induced stem cells on day four, followed by about 85 percent expressing the gene COL1A1 on day 14. The last few days of the experiments saw an unmistakably sharp rise in expression of the gene BGLAP in more than 80 percent of the induced stem cells.

Each successive episode of gene expression ramped up from zero to the peak more quickly, the researchers noted, leading to a new hypothesis that the pace of the stem cell transformation, or “differentiation” in stem cell parlance, may become more synchronized in a population over time.

“If you could find a way to get them on this track earlier, you could get the differentiation faster,” Darling said.

Meanwhile the stem cell populations that were not induced with bone-promoting chemicals, showed virtually no beacon fluorescence or expression of the genes, indicating that the beacons were truly indicators of steps along the transformation from stem cell to bone.

Beacons don’t affect cells

Desai said the team took extra care to design beacons that would not alter the cells’ development or functioning in any way. While the beacons do bind to messenger RNA produced in gene expression, for example, they do not require adding any genes to the stem cells’ DNA, or expressing any special proteins, as many other fluorescence techniques do.

The team performed several experiments using the beacons in conventionally developing bone cells to make sure that they developed normally even as the beacons were in operation. While some scientists design RNA-based probes to purposely interfere with gene expression, this team had the opposite intent.

“You know that [.38 Special] song ‘Hold on Loosely but Don’t Let Go?’” Desai said. “That’s sort of the theme song for this. There’s a set of rules for interference RNA, and we essentially did the opposite of what those rules said you should do.”

Toward quicker healing

Now that the beacons’ performance in indicating milestones of stem cell differentiation has been demonstrated, Darling said, the technology can be applied to studying the process in a wide variety of cells and under a variety of other experimental conditions.

In the case of tissue engineering, he said, the beacons can aid experiments seeking to determine what conditions (inducing chemicals or otherwise) are most effective in converting the most stem cells to desired tissues most quickly. They could help tissue engineers learn the best timing for adding an inducing chemical. They might also provide a way for tissue engineers to identify and harvest only those cells that are converting to the desired tissue.

“They are becoming bone cells and if you enrich for them and you get rid of all the ones that aren’t becoming bone cells, it stands to reason that you will have a better product at the end,” Darling said.

More broadly, Darling added, molecular beacons are proving useful in a wide variety of gene expression studies.

“The reason we are looking at this technique is that we wanted something we could use on any cell, look at any gene and not affect that cell while we are looking at it,” Darling said. “If this is acting as we believe it is, we can really look at any gene that we want. It seems like a very versatile tool.”

In addition to Darling and Desai, the other authors are Indu Voruganti, Chathuraka Jayasuriya, and Qian Chen.

The National Institutes of Health provided funding for the research.

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.

David Orenstein | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.brown.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Researchers identify a protein that keeps metastatic breast cancer cells dormant
23.01.2018 | Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)

nachricht Opening the cavity floodgates
23.01.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Optical Nanoscope Allows Imaging of Quantum Dots

Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.

Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers reveal how microbes cope in phosphorus-deficient tropical soil

23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Opening the cavity floodgates

23.01.2018 | Life Sciences

Siberian scientists suggested a new method for synthesizing a promising magnetic material

23.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>