Stem cell differentiation is an important part of the body’s development and repair. Through complex genetic regulation and epigenetic reprogramming, pluripotent or totipotent stem cells will receive signals that cause them to differentiate into a particular cell type. There are many lineages leading to the many different cell types that make up complex organisms, and some are highly implicated in novel disease treatment.
Recently, scientists in the Neuroregeneration Laboratory at McLean Hospital (an affiliate of Harvard Medical School) have found that different types of neurons can be grown from human stem cells, including patient-specific induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. This has profound clinical consequences in the treatment of neurodegenerative synucleopathies, including Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s - particularly because the types of neurons that can be grown from stem cells are relevant to those diseases. New research has also shown that dissociated primordial neurons and stem cells implanted into the adult central nervous system can grow to reconnect neuronal pathways, forming physiological and molecular links with pre-existing tissue. Stem cells have also recently been reprogrammed in another landmark breakthrough - it seems whatever way you look at it, stem cells are the future!
Image Source: McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School.