The world of stem cell research has been given a boost this week with a potential new source of stem cells and an improved culturing technique both being separately reported.
In research published online in the journal Human Reproduction, Dr Caroline Gargett and her PhD student, Ms Kjiana Schwab describe how they have identified two new 'markers' to enable the isolation of mesenchymal stem-like cells (MSC) from the endometrium (the tissue that lines the womb), using rapid cell-sorting.
MSCs are multipotent stem cells that have the ability to differentiate into a variety of cell types including bone, cartilage, muscle and fat.
It has long been suspected that MSCs are contained within the endometrium, as it is the only adult tissue that contains a substantial amount of the connective tissue that regularly regenerates during menstruation.
Isolating the endometrial MSC has perplexed researchers, as they have had no way to positively identify the cells. The discovery of the two new 'markers' by the researchers has paved the way for their prospective isolation.
Dr Gargett, a senior scientist at the Centre for Women's Health Research, Monash Institute of Medical Research, Monash University, Victoria, Australia, said: 'This allows us to characterise endometrial MSC so we can understand their molecular and cellular properties better, compare them to MSC from other sources, such as bone marrow and fat, use them for tissue engineering applications, such as making constructs with biological scaffolds for pelvic floor prolapse surgery and see how they may have a role in gynaecological diseases such as endometriosis'.
Further research, published in the September issue of the journal Stem Cells, has shown that embryonic stem cells - cells derived from early embryos, which have the potential to differentiate into all 220 cell types in the adult body - thrive in an environment where they are gently shaken.
An act of forgetfulness - the catalyst for many a great scientific discovery - by Rich Carpenedo, a graduate student and first author of the paper, led to the discovery. He observed a dish of embryonic stem cells left accidentally on a shaker - a common item in many laboratories, used to mix cells - had developed in greater numbers and more uniformly than conventional unshaken cells.
Current methods of embryonic stem cell culturing in the lab involve a single droplet of cells separated by a great deal of space in the dish. Although this is a space and time inefficient process, it stops the cells clumping together which is a recurrent problem in stem cells development. The new technique will simplify stem cell culturing whilst improving the healthiness and uniformity of stem cells.
'We can throw many cells in a dish and not have to worry about clumping and cell survival', said Todd McDevitt, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University and head of the project. 'We call it the "set it and forget it" method for growing stem cells', he added.