'Missing link' to revolutionise use of stem cells

Two teams of scientists have discovered independently a new type of stem cell they believe could lead to better treatments for incurable diseases.

Researchers from Oxford and Cambridge universities made the discovery in laboratory mice and rats. They found that the new cells behave just like a human stem cell - raising the prospect of better animal models of human illnesses.

The study, published in the journal Nature, is described as the "missing link" between animal and human stem cells that could eventually revolutionise the development of treatments for patients.

Stem cells are the unspecialised "mother" cells of the body that have the power to develop into any of the scores of specialised tissues - from the muscle cells of the heart to the nerve cells of the brain.

Scientists hope to find a way of harvesting human stem cells, either from embryos or from adult tissue, in order to grow replacement body parts in the laboratory for treating defective tissue rather than relying on organ transplants.

The best stem cells in terms of their ability to become specialists are derived from early embryos but scientists have been puzzled as to why embryonic stem cells from mice appear to behave differently to those from humans.

They thought these differences could be explained because the cells come from different species but the latest study suggests that it is probably due to the timing of stem cell harvesting. The new stem cell, derived initially from mice, was taken at a later embryonic stage than usual. This mouse stem was remarkable for how different it was to normal mouse stem cells and how similar it was to human stem cells.

"These findings suggest that human embryonic stem cells originate at a later stage of development than previously thought," said Sir Richard Gardner, who led the Oxford team.

"The ultimate ideal would be to help a patient who requires regeneration of parts of the body by taking stem cells in a biopsy and re-differentiating the cells to grow them into the needed part of the body."

Stem cells from the mice embryos were normally taken at the stage of the blastocyst, which develops between three and four days after conception. The new stem cell was taken from a structure in the embryo called the epiblast, which develops when the embryo is a week old and capable of implanting itself into the womb.

"The epiblast stem cells, as they have been named, constitute the 'missing link' between mouse and human embryonic stem cells," said Professor Roger Pedersen, who led the Cambridge research team.

"On a molecular level, epiblast stem cells are more similar to human embryonic stem cells than to mouse embryonic stem cells," he said.

"The differences between mouse and human embryonic stem cells that we had attributed to species differences may actually come down to the developmental stages from which the cells emerge.

"Our hope is that pinpointing the developmental stage when human embryonic stem cells originate will help scientists who are using cells to develop cures for injuries and disease."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own