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Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived from embryos.


Biology Articles » Biotechnology » Generating embryonic stem cells » Identification of embryonic stem cells

Identification of embryonic stem cells
- Generating embryonic stem cells

At various points during the process of generating embryonic stem cell lines, scientists test the cells to see whether they exhibit the fundamental properties that make them embryonic stem cells. This process is called characterization.

 

As yet, scientists who study human embryonic stem cells have not agreed on a standard battery of tests that measure the cells' fundamental properties. Also, scientists acknowledge that many of the tests they do use may not be good indicators of the cells' most important biological properties and functions. Nevertheless, laboratories that grow human embryonic stem cell lines use several kinds of tests. These tests include:

  • Growing and sub culturing the stem cells for many months. This ensures that the cells are capable of long-term self-renewal. Scientists inspect the cultures through a microscope to see that the cells look healthy and remain undifferentiated.
  • Using specific techniques to determine the presence of surface markers that are found only on undifferentiated cells. Another important test is for the presence of a protein called Oct-4, which undifferentiated cells typically make. Oct-4 is a transcription factor, meaning that it helps turn geneson and off at the right time, which is an important part of the processes of cell differentiation and embryonic development.
  • Examining the chromosomes under a microscope. This is a method to assess whether the chromosomes are damaged or if the number of chromosomes has changed. It does not detect genetic mutations in the cells.
  • Determining whether the cells can be subculture after freezing, thawing, and replating.

Testing whether the human embryonic stem cells are pluripotent by 1) allowing the cells to differentiate spontaneously in cell culture; 2) manipulating the cells so they will differentiate to form specific cell types; or 3) injecting the cells into an immunosuppressed mouse to test for the formation of a benign tumor called a teratoma. Teratomas typically contain a mixture of many differentiated or partly differentiated cell types—an indication that the embryonic stem cells is capable of differentiating into multiple cell types.

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Directed differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells.

As long as the embryonic stem cells in culture are grown under certain conditions, they can remain undifferentiated (unspecialized). But if cells are allowed to clump together to form embryoid bodies, they begin to differentiate spontaneously. They can form muscle cells, nerve cells, and many other cell types. Although spontaneous differentiation is a good indication that a culture of embryonic stem cells is healthy, it is not an efficient way to produce cultures of specific cell types.So, to generate cultures of specific types of differentiated cells—heart muscle cells, blood cells, or nerve cells, for example—scientists try to control the differentiation of embryonic stem cells. They change the chemical composition of the culture medium, alter the surface of the culture dish, or modify the cells by inserting specific genes. Through years of experimentation scientists have established some basic protocols or "recipes" for the directed differentiation of embryonic stem cells into some specific cell types. If scientists can reliably direct the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into specific cell types, they may be able to use the resulting, differentiated cells to treat certain diseases at some point in the future. Diseases that might be treated by transplanting cells generated from human embryonic stem cells include Parkinson's disease, diabetes, traumatic spinal cord injury, Purkinje cell degeneration, Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, heart disease, and vision and hearing loss. 

rating: 3.61 from 18 votes | updated on: 10 Apr 2008 | views: 13484 |

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