Bio researchers in the Gene Expression Laboratory and Laboratory of Genetics at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego have done something remarkable: they've succeeded in turning blood from the umbilical cord (cord blood) into the more specialized cells found in neuronal networks. And they've done it in one transcriptional move using a single protein. Like embryonic stem cells, cord blood stem cells are undifferentiated, meaning they can transform into any cell type. This plasticity has been recognized and studied for several decades now, but typically multiple transcription factors are necessary to create specialized stem cells like those found in the brain.
[Image of a colony of neurons derived from cord-blood cells using stem cell reprogramming technology, taken by Alessandra Giorgetti and courtesy of the Salk Institute]
Cord blood is harvested during the birth process and has the advantage of being relatively uncontroversial, since there is no negative impact on the fetus or mother's health. After the umbilical cord has been detached from the newborn infant, cord blood can be extracted from it, as well as from the placenta, to which it is still attached. Both are rich sources of stem cells that can be used to treat a number of diseases (and that number is growing with research). It is not uncommon for a family to harvest and freeze cord blood at the time of a child's birth for use at a later time. It is stored in a lab accredited by the government and has the advantage of being a direct match to the blood and DNA of the child itself, as well as the mother.
The Salk researchers involved in this study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences were from the labs of Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte and Fred H. Gage. What they accomplished was to turn CB (cord blood) cells, which are middle layer cells, into the outer layer cells from which neuronal cells originate. Skin cells have been used in other experiments, but they require numerous transcription factors. The Salk team utilized a retrovirus to introduce the single transcription factor, Sox2, into the cells, which were then cultured. The resulting product acted like neuronal cells and was therefore given the name induced neuronal-like cells (iNC). When inserted into the brains of mice, the iNC integrated into the existing neuronal network and transmitted electrical signals like mature, functional neurons.
The Salk Institute of Biological Studies is located in the La Jolla Torre Pines bioscience hub in San Diego, right next door to the newly-opened Sanford Consortium stem cell research collaboratory we reported on in another recent blog. Salk researchers are some of the illustrious stem cell scientists who have moved to the new facility, in fact, in order to engage in more collaborative work. The following video gives a nice overview of the Institute's mission and 50-year history:
[Celebrating 50 Years of Discovery video, courtesy of the Salk Institute]
Biotechnology Calendar Inc. is proud to host its largest, longest-running and best-attended event, the San Diego Biotechnology Vendor Showcase, twice-annually on the UCSD campus. In addition to actively inviting UC life scientists, we reach out to researchers at all of the major San Diego and La Jolla bioscience institutes, including the Salk. We even arrange special transportation to and from the event to make sure no one has to miss this exceptional networking opportunity. Our next UCSD BVS event is taking place tomorrow, August 23, 2012, then again in the spring on February 14, 2013.
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