The identification of stem cells has boosted research in many areas. This week, MedZine highlights two studies employing stem cells in different settings. The first study describes the first successful generation of lung cells from stem cells. The other study shows that targeting colon cancer stem cells is effective against colon cancer in animals.
Growing lung cells
Previously, human stem cells have been used to generate heart cells, pancreatic beta cells, intestinal cells, liver cells, and nerve cells. However, until now, stem cells had not been tricked into generating lung cells. In a publication in Nature Biotechnology, Huang and colleagues describe the culturing of functional lung epithelial cells form human embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells. The induced pluripotent stem cells are derived from skin. These cells are forced to take a developmental step back and then can be used to generate specialized cells. This finding opens the door to the use of lung cells derived from stem cells in modeling lung disease, screening drugs, studying human lung development, and, ultimately, generating lung tissue for transplantation.
Shutting down colon cancer by targeting stem cells
Relapse is a major problem for patients with colon cancer. Relapses are thought to occur because the self-renewing cancer stem cells are resistant to therapy and grow out to generate a new tumor. In a publication in Nature Medicine, Kreso and colleagues show that targeting the cancer stem cells in colon cancer is effective in stopping the cancer. The researcher first identified BMI-1 as a key regulator of colon cancer stem cells. Blocking the BMI-1 pathway prevented self-renewal in stem cells, which resulted in long-term and irreversible impairment of tumor growth. Since about 65% of the patients with colon cancer have the MBI-1 marker, this finding could translate into the first trails in humans according to the researchers.
View a movie where principal investigator Dr. John Dick talk about the research.
Sources: Eurekalert, Nature Biotechnology, and Nature Medicine