Stem Cells: A day in Review

There has been a flurry of activity today with headlines discussing all sorts of findings with relevance to stem cells. In this post, we are going to discuss finding a muscular “fountain of youth” switch, a successful stem cell therapy in mice (we’ve cured so many mice), and the potential discovery of a true stem cell in breast cancer.

Dr. Elena Vasyutina, Carmen Birchmeier, and Diana Lenhard of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) found a genetic switch (RBP-J) that governs the regeneration of satellite cells (muscle stem cells) . If this switch is turned off, satellite cells decrease in overall number, and are replaced by normal muscle cells which will ultimately die and become unrenewable over time (aging?). See Fountain Of Youth: Molecular Switch Holds Key To Reserve Supply Of Muscle Stem Cells for a full review on the research findings.

In other news, doctors at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research found that stem cells act through multiple mechanisms to benefit mice. The article mentions that the scientists were successful at implanting mouse neural stem cells (NSCs). These stem cells replaced damaged brain tissue and were found integrated throughout the brain. In fact, some transplanted cells transmitted nerve impulses, which showed electrical integration and functionality in a previously diseased brain. This is potentially great news for patients with ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. A stem cell therapy might be just around the corner.

The March issue of Cancer Cell reports that a group of scientists, led by Dr. Kornelia Polyak of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, that there are two genetically distinct tumourigenic breast cancer cells. Dr. Polyak said that “If the breast cancer cells were all coming from a single cancer stem cell, you might be able to cure the disease with just one drug. But our findings suggest that the tumor cells come from a ‘stem-like’ progenitor cell, and then diverge genetically, so I think you have to treat both cell types.” (See full story by harminka, writer at