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Researchers unlock a new means of growing intestinal stem cells

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes. Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have shown that they can grow unlimited quantities of intestinal stem cells, then stimulate them to develop into nearly pure populations of different types of mature intestinal cells. Using these cells, scientists could develop and test new drugs to treat diseases such as ulcerative colitis.

The small intestine, like most other body tissues, has a small store of immature adult stem cells that can differentiate into more mature, specialized cell types. Until now, there has been no good way to grow large numbers of these stem cells, because they only remain immature while in contact with a type of supportive cells called Paneth cells.

In a new study appearing in the Dec. 1 online edition of Nature Methods, the researchers found a way to replace Paneth cells with two small molecules that maintain stem cells and promote their proliferation. Stem cells grown in a lab dish containing these molecules can stay immature indefinitely; by adding other molecules, including inhibitors and activators, the researchers can control what types of cells they eventually become. Read more...