Monday, September 19, 2011

Splicing Our Way Towards Stem Cell Pluripotency

Stem cells carry medical utility because of their pluripotency— a mutability of functional destiny. Because they have the potential to become any kind of cell in the human body, they could theoretically be cultured to replace tissues ravaged by injury or illness, or to produce the media on which experimental drugs can be safely tested.

According to a team of Toronto-based molecular geneticists, this infinite potentiality is regulated via alternative splicing, by which a single gene can yield several different proteins by combining different exons in primary RNA. UToronto’s Benjamin Blencowe claims that the gene FOXP1 controls the synthesis of transcription factors— proteins that determine pluripotency— through alternative splicing. These proteins curtail the ability of a cell to specialize— to lock in its biological destiny as skin cell or gland cell, neuron or blood cell.

Blencowe’s team is hopeful that a better understanding of this alternative splicing process will allow scientists to make more sophisticated progress in learning how to “reprogram” cells— that is, reintroduce pluripotency to functionally static adult stem cells. As it stands, cells reprogrammed using existing knowledge have the tendency to be carcinogenic, making them therapeutically useless.


1 comment:

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