Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

In a First, Weizmann Institute and Cambridge University Scientists Create Human Primordial Germ Cells

02.01.2015

A cell programming technique developed by Weizmann’s Dr. Jacob Hanna turns cells into the earliest precursors of sperm and ova

Groups at the Weizmann Institute of Science and Cambridge University have jointly managed the feat of turning back the clock on human cells to create primordial germ cells – the embryonic cells that give rise to sperm and ova – in the lab.


Weizmann Institute of Science

Clusters of human embryonic stem cells that were differentiated to a primordial germ cell (PGC) state (colored cells). Each color reveals the expression of a different gene. (l-r) NANOS3, NANOG, OCT4 and, on the right, all three combined in a single image.

This is the first time that human cells have been programmed into this early developmental stage. The results of their study, which were published December 24 in Cell, could help provide answers as to the causes of fertility problems, yield insight into the earliest stages of embryonic development and potentially, in the future, enable the development of new kinds of reproductive technology.

“Researchers have been attempting to create human primordial germ cells (PGCs) in the petri dish for years,” says Dr. Jacob Hanna of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Molecular Genetics, who led the study together with research student Leehee Weinberger. PGCs arise within the early weeks of embryonic growth, as the embryonic stem cells in the fertilized egg begin to differentiate into the very basic cell types. Once these primordial cells become “specified,” they continue developing toward precursor sperm cells or ova “pretty much on autopilot,” says Dr. Hanna.

The idea of creating these cells in the lab took off with the 2006 invention of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells – adult cells that are “reprogrammed” to look and act like embryonic stem cells, which can then differentiate into any cell type. Thus several years ago, when researchers in Japan created mouse iPS cells and then got them to differentiate into PGCs, scientists immediately set about trying to replicate the achievement in human cells. But until now, none had been successful.

Previous research in Dr. Hanna’s lab pointed to new methods that could take human cells to the PGC state. That research had focused on the question of how human iPS cells and mouse embryonic cells differ: The mouse embryonic cells are easily kept in their stem cell state in the lab, while human iPS cells that have been reprogrammed – a technique that involves the insertion of four genes – have a strong drive to differentiate, and they often retain traces of “priming.”

Dr. Hanna and his group then created a method for tuning down the genetic pathway for differentiation, thus creating a new type of iPS cell that they dubbed “naïve cells.” These naïve cells appeared to rejuvenate iPS cells one step further, closer to the original embryonic state from which they can truly differentiate into any cell type. Since these naïve cells are more similar to their mouse counterparts, Dr. Hanna and his group thought they could be coaxed to differentiate into primordial germ cells.

Working with naïve human embryonic stem and iPS cells, and applying the techniques that had been successful in the mouse cell experiments, the research team managed to produce cells that, in both cases, appeared to be identical to human PGCs. Together with the lab group of Prof. Azim Surani of Cambridge University, the scientists further tested and refined the method jointly in both labs. By adding a glowing red fluorescent marker to the genes for PGCs, they were able to gauge how many of the cells had been programmed. Their results showed that quite a high rate – up to 40% – had become PGCs; this quantity enables easy analysis.

Dr. Hanna points out that PGCs are only the first step in creating human sperm and ova. A number of hurdles remain before labs will be able to complete the chain of events that move an adult cell through the cycle of embryonic stem cell and around to sperm or ova. For one, at some point in the process, these cells must learn to perform the neat trick of dividing their DNA in half before they can become viable reproductive cells. Still, he is confident that those hurdles will one day be overcome, raising the possibility, for example, of enabling women who have undergone chemotherapy or premature menopause to conceive.

In the meantime, the study has already yielded some interesting results that may have significant implications for further research on PGCs and possibly other early embryonic cells. The team managed to trace part of the genetic chain of events that directs a stem cell to differentiate into a primordial germ cell, and they discovered a master gene, Sox17, that regulates the process in humans, but not in mice. Because this gene network is quite different from the one that had been identified in mice, the researchers suspect that more than a few surprises may await scientists who study the process in humans.

According to Dr. Hanna, “Having the ability to create human PGCs in the petri dish will enable us to investigate the process of differentiation on the molecular level. For example, we found that only ‘fresh’ naïve cells can become PGCs; but after a week in conventional growth conditions they lose this capability once again. We want to know why this is. What is it about human stem cell states that makes them more or less competent? And what exactly drives the process of differentiation once a cell has been reprogrammed to its more naïve state? It is the answers to these basic questions that will, ultimately, advance iPS cell technology to the point of medical use.”

Dr. Jacob Hanna’s research is supported by Pascal and Ilana Mantoux, France/Israel; the New York Stem Cell Foundation; the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI), the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF); the Helen and Martin Kimmel Award for Innovative Investigation; the Benoziyo Endowment Fund for the Advancement of Science; the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; the Sir Charles Clore Research Prize; Erica A. Drake and Robert Drake; the Abisch Frenkel Foundation for the Promotion of Life Sciences; the European Research Council; the Israel Science Foundation, and the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung. Dr. Hanna is a New York Stem Cell Foundation-Robertson Investigator.

This work was made possible by a grant from BIRAX (the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership) Regenerative Medicine Initiative.

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world’s top-ranking multidisciplinary research institutions. The Institute’s 3,800-strong scientific community engages in research addressing crucial problems in medicine and health, energy, technology, agriculture, and the environment. Outstanding young scientists from around the world pursue advanced degrees at the Weizmann Institute’s Feinberg Graduate School. The discoveries and theories of Weizmann Institute scientists have had a major impact on the wider scientific community, as well as on the quality of life of millions of people worldwide.

Jennifer Manning | newswise

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>