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Michigan State University’s Approach to Regenerative Medicine

The National Institutes of Health describes stem cells as “unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves through cell division, which – under certain physiologic or experimental conditions – can be induced to become tissue- or organ-specific cells with special functions.”

Scientists currently work with three types of stem cells:

1. embryonic stem cells derived from embryos donated for research with the informed consent of the donor;

2. non-embryonic somatic (adult) stem cells, which the NIH defines as “a relatively rare undifferentiated cell found in many organs and differentiated tissues with a limited capacity for both self renewal (in the laboratory) and differentiation,” and

3. induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are specialized adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to operate like a stem cell.

Scientists at MSU have been conducting research related to various types of stem cells since the mid-1980s. In 1987, MSU Professors Chia-Cheng Chang, James E. Trosko and their research associates developed approaches to isolate normal adult human stem cells. The adult human stem cells developed and characterized by this team include kidney, breast epithelial, pancreatic, liver, gastric and mesenchymal stem cells.

More recently, MSU’s Jose Cibelli, professor of animal science, and his research team in the MSU Cellular Reprogramming Laboratory (CRL) began using a process developed in Japan to take adult human skin cells and convert them to iPSCs. They then grow the IPSCs under conditions that push the cells to adopt a new identity as cells of specific types, such as neurons. By analyzing these neurons, they hope to understand the molecular drivers of disease at the cellular level and find ways to enhance the capacity of damaged tissue to participate in regeneration and repair.

Photo: Amy Ralston, MSU assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology,  has identified a possible source of stem cells, which can advance regenerative and fertility research. Courtesy of MSU