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Singapore stem cell breakthrough
The team's research offers crucial understanding on how stem cells may one day be used to treat debilitating conditions such as Parkinson's disease and traumatic spinal injury.
The team comprises scientists from the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), which are two biomedical research institutes of Singapore's Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
The scientists investigated the 21,000 genes in the entire human genome to find those which regulate the two characteristic properties human embryonic stem cells: The capacity to turn into any type of cell in the human body or what's known as pluripotency, and the ability to retain that capacity indefinitely.
Out of the several key genes they identified, a particular gene known as PRDM14 was discovered to make it easier to turn a type of human cell into pluripotent stem cells.
Their research, published in top scientific journal Nature, is the first genome-wide study of human stem cells on such a massive scale.
The discoveries contribute to a fundamental understanding of the nature of stem cells and help efforts to improve techniques to turn mature adult cells into hESCs.
In addition, the scientists found PRDM14 played a key role in hESCs, but not in mouse ESCs.
This significant new finding highlights the fundamental differences between stem cells from different species, and highlights the greater need to use human cells in stem cell research.
GIS senior group leader for Stem Cell and Development Biology and associate director for Biology Ng Huck Hui said: "Very little is known about the molecular machines that drive stem cell states or the transcriptional profiles of hESCs.
"Our study helps to build a better understanding of hESCs and this will help in the development of technologies to further the utilities of these cells such as their potential to be used for clinical and therapeutic applications".
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