Stem cell therapies hold promise as a cure for diseases but not without some risk, since faulty regulation of stem cells leads to a huge range of human diseases. Even before birth, mistakes made by the stem cells are a major cause of congenital defects and cancer can also be caused by the body losing control of stem cell function.
Guiding stem cells along the correct pathways and reversing their mistakes is one target of cancer research and scientists from Tufts University say they have identified a novel and readily modifiable signal by which an organism can control the behavior of stem cell offspring.
Their laboratory works on bioelectrical signaling. There is always a difference in voltage, called the transmembrane potential, between the inside and outside of all cells, and controlling exactly what this difference is turns out to be vitally important. Specialized protein checkpoints sited in a cell's outer membrane regulate ion flow in and out of the cell, producing voltage gradients. These, combined with more conventional protein-based signaling systems, can specify cell destiny.
Building on other work at Tufts, that the properties of human stem cells growing in artificial culture could be drastically altered by changing their transmembrane potential, they asked whether tampering with the transmembrane potential of one kind of cell could have a 'domino effect' in a whole organism, altering the destiny of other cell types.
To do this, they focused on the development of neural crest stem cells, which are responsible for directing development of the face and heart, but which also generate melanocytes, the pigment cells of the skin. Using frog tadpoles and melanocytes as a model system, they showed that tweaking the transmembrane potential of a tiny population of 'instructor' cells sends a signal to developing melanocytes that causes them to overgrow and start to resemble metastatic cancer cells.
Most excitingly, they found that the signal can travel over long distances in the tadpole, and that the messenger carrying it is serotonin – an important neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and many other aspects of nervous system function.
This novel bioelectrical method of changing stem cell behavior has huge implications. It is very likely that there are similar 'instructor' cells that direct other important cell populations, and changing their voltage gradients would be relatively easy (Levin's lab simply used an anti-parasitic drug already available on prescription).
The resulting bioelectrical therapy could potentially be harnessed to improve regenerative repair after injury, repair birth defects and detect and prevent cancer.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Top Secret: On Confidentiality On Scientific Issues, Across The Ring And Across The Bedroom
- Would New Planet X Clear Its Orbit? - And Any Better Name Than "Planet Nine"?
- The Mystery Of The Red Sea
- Stop Using BMI To Determine Health
- The Greenhouse Effect Fallacy
- Why Diamonds Are More Of A Scientific Miracle Than You Think
- From Allergens To Anodes: Pollen Derived Battery Electrodes
- "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVyV4L072jY So then what is going on in this video? Also what is..."
- "Just curious, When was the last time you (the author) generated a mathematical model? On what?..."
- "Hi jmv, no I'm just referring to the article and the author of the piece. Sorry...."
- "@PWInn: Are you referring to the blog, or to the comments (including mine)? Please clarify. ..."
- "Wow, this is some pretty bad stuff. Tell me Frank, why is Venus hotter than Mercury. Seriously..."
- Florida Declares Zika Virus State of Emergency
- Indonesia’s Many Human Physical Deformities: A Closer Look
- Spinal ‘Column’: Love for Hunchback Dog, Breakthrough for 8-Yr-Old Girl
- BMI is Bologna
- Energy Drinks: The Dose Makes the Poison
- California’s Prop 65: Bad For Public Acceptance Of Science, About To Get Worse
- Cambridge researcher develops smartphone app to map Swiss-German dialects
- Studies link healthy workforces to positive stock market performance
- Pioneering discovery leads to potential preventive treatment for sudden cardiac death
- Online shopping might not be as green as we thought
- Gene family turns cancer cells into aggressive stem cells that keep growing