Researchers at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the Scripps Research Institute have found that a protein known to play an important role in maintaining mouse embryonic stem cells has a similarly crucial job in human embryonic stem cells. This protein, called Shp2, acts as a switch, telling the cells to either divide to make more of themselves – a process called self-renewal – or to mature into different cell types – called differentiation. Fine-tuning this balance between self-renewal and differentiation will be critical for developing new therapies based on embryonic stem cells. The cells need to self-renew in order to grow up enough cells to be therapeutically useful. Once researchers have sufficient cells, they need to switch the cells over to a state where they can mature into cell types such as nerves, retinal cells, or pancreatic islets that can be used to study or treat disease.
PLoS ONE: March 17, 2009
CIRM funding: Yuhong Pang (T2-00004)
Related Information: Press Release, Burnham Institute for Medical Research