Topic: Stem cells

Human neural stem cells, which can differentiate to become any of several types of neurons.

Stem cells are uniquely versatile cells that retain the ability to replicate indefinitely through cell division and to differentiate into specialized cell-types, including the roughly 220 types of cell in the human body. Stem cells exist in two kinds: embryonic and adult. Embryonic stem cells are found early in the development of an embryo — at the blastocyst stage — and can generate, in response to certain signals, all of the fluids and tissues that make up the various systems in the body. Adult stem cells are present throughout the lifespan of an organism, capable of specializing into several cell types in order to repair injuries or regenerate blood, tissues or organs as needed.

Researchers are actively investigating stem cells for their potential to repair damaged or diseased organs and spinal cord injuries, among other applications.

Two human embryonic stem cell lines, derived by Rockefeller University scientists, were among the first 13 human embryonic stem cell lines approved for use in research funded by the National Institutes of Health under the NIH Guidelines for Human Stem Cell Research, issued in July 2009. The two lines, called RUES1 and RUES2, were derived by Ali H. Brivanlou, in 2005 using private funds provided by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Brivanlou has made numerous discoveries about what guides the early differentiation of embryonic stem cells in mammals and amphibians into the organs and systems that constitute the organism. Rockefeller’s Elaine Fuchs primarily studies adult stem cells, namely hair follicle stems cells in mice as a model system for how stem cells of all types are able to rejuvenate tissues throughout life and also repair them after injury.
Several other Rockefeller labs are also exploring how stem cells work as well, in connection with programmed cell death, neurological disorders and epigenetic regulation of gene expression, among other things.

The more that is understood about the secrets of stem cells’ seeming immortality and the way they differentiate into specialized cells, the more likely researchers will be able to harness these remarkable properties to treat a broad range of diseases that afflict us today.