January 1, 1970 (Vol. , No. )

Kevin Ahern

Manipulating stem cells is one of the hardest tasks one might choose to do in a laboratory. First, they are very hard to come by, second, they tend to die if not stimulated to grow, and third, like other cultured cells, stem cells are difficult to insert DNA into. Put these limitations together and you’ll welcome any advances that ease making modifications to them. Scientists Peter Donovan, Leslie Lock, and Kristi Hohenstein at UC Irvine combined two cell treatments and, in the process, developed a new way to transform stem cells that produces genetically altered ones much more efficiently than previous methods. Writing in the Journal Stem Cell, the researchers outline their new process. First, stem cells are treated with growth factors to keep them alive and increase their numbers. Next, they are treated with tiny electrical currents in a technique called nucleofaction to permeabilize their outer membranes, thus allowing DNA to more easily enter. The new technique produces 100 transformed stem cells for every single transformed one in previous techniques. Older methods employ chemicals to stimulate the nucleic acid transfer and, unfortunately, kill many cells in the process. Researchers are looking forward to experiments using the new technique. These include “labeling” cells with green fluorescent proteins to track their movements when reinserted into laboratory organisms. Knowing the fate of stem cells in the body will allow scientist to better tailor alterations for desired purposes and give a better understanding of how abnormal stem cells progress to disease.


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