Stem cells are so incredible because they can successfully become so many other types of cells. But how exactly do you force them to transform the way that you want? How do you make a stem cell into...say... a heart cell?
Researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the Human BioMolecular Research Institute, and ChemRegen, Inc. have spent the last eight years attempting to discover a molecule capable of doing just that, and it looks like they might finally have found it.
Using an almost brute force method, the researchers tried a library of different molecules against mouse stem cells, to see which would cause the formation of cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells. What they found was molecule called ITD-1. ITD-1 selectively degrades type II transforming growth factor-β. What that means is that it prevented a chemical signal that causes cells to transform into a smooth muscle cell, or an endothelial cell. In the absence of those chemical instructions, the cell turned into a heart cell.
The best part? ITD-1 seems to work on humans as well as rodents. Which means that you can nudge a mass of stem cells into becoming heart cells, and potentially creating a way of repairing a damaged heart.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images