Stem cell

New stem cell method produces millions of human brain and muscle cells in days

Scientists at the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have created a new technique that simplifies the production of human brain and muscle cells – allowing millions of functional cells to be generated in just a few days.

Human pluripotent stem cells are ‘master cells’ that have the ability to develop into almost any type of tissue, including brain cells. They hold huge potential for studying human development and the impact of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease.

In a human, it takes nine to twelve months for a single brain cell to develop fully. It can take between three and 20 weeks using current methods to create human brain cells, including grey matter (neurons) and white matter (oligodendrocytes) from an induced pluripotent stem cell – that is, a stem cell generated by reprogramming a skin cell to its ‘master’ stage. However, these methods are complex and time-consuming, often producing a mixed population of cells.

Opti-OX

The new platform technology, OPTi-OX, optimises the way of switching on genes in human stem cells. Scientists applied OPTi-OX to the production of millions of nearly identical cells in a matter of days. In addition to the neurons, oligodendrocytes, and muscle cells the scientists created in the study, OPTi-OX holds the possibility of generating any cell type at unprecedented purities, in this short timeframe.

Producing neurons, oligodendrocytes and muscle cells

To produce the neurons, oligodendrocytes, and muscle cells, the team altered the DNA in…

Cells’ stunning complexity on display in a new online portal

3-D images of cells
VARIATIONS ON A CELL Although these stem cells are all genetically identical, they can adopt a variety of shapes. Here, the cells’ membranes are cyan, and DNA is colored magenta.

Computers don’t have eyes, but they could revolutionize the way scientists visualize cells.

Researchers at the Allen Institute for Cell Science in Seattle have devised 3-D representations of cells, compiled by computers learning where thousands of real cells tuck their component parts.

Most drawings of cells in textbooks come from human interpretations gleaned by looking at just a few dead cells at a time. The new Allen Cell Explorer, which premiered online April 5, presents 3-D images of genetically identical stem cells grown in lab dishes (composite, above), revealing a huge variety of structural differences.

Each cell comes from a skin cell that was reprogrammed into a stem cell. Important proteins were tagged with fluorescent molecules so researchers could keep tabs on the cell membrane, DNA-containing nucleus, energy-generating mitochondria, microtubules and other cell parts. Using the 3-D images, computer programs learned where the cellular parts are in relation to each other. From those rules, the programs can generate predictive transparent models of a cell’s structure (below). The new views, which can capture cells at different time points, may offer clues into their inner workings.

3-D view of a cell
Machine-learning programs…