ETH Zurich: New Aspects in Stem Cell Development

Because of their therapeutic potential, stem cells are today a major focus of at-tention in biomedical research. To realise this potential, however, it is essential to know the signal factors that can regulate the differentiation of a stem cell into the various cell types of an organism. An important factor in stem cell biology is the signal protein “Wnt”. In the case of quite a number of stem cell types, such as embryonal stem cells or stem cells of the central nervous system, “Wnt” re-sults in cell proliferation, while at the same time suppressing the development of mature cell types.

Stem Cells of Different Origins React Differently

Scientists at the Institute of Cell Biology at ETH Zurich have now discovered in collaboration with the Max-Planck-Institut in Freiburg, Germany, a new role for Wnt. In a study to be published in the scientific magazine “Science” on 8 Janu-ary 2004, the researchers show that, in stem cells of the peripheral nervous sys-tem, “Wnt” has no effect on the proliferation of the stem cells. On the contrary, the development of certain neurons is stimulated. Stem cells of different origins therefore appear to respond very differently to the same signals in their envi-ronment. For stem cell therapy, which is still only a vision, this could mean that a certain type of stem cell could possibly be useful for the treatment of a certain neuropathy, but on the other hand could be unsuitable for the treatment of another disease or injury.

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Lukas Sommer alfa

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