Unusual tumors termed as teratomas are assumed to be formed by the embryonic stem cells. These tumors probably encompass a mixture of cells from a variety of tissues and organs of the body which are usually benign. A team of biologists from UC San Diego have claimed to shed light on a way to limit the formation of teratomas.
It is very crucial to control these tumors as they seem to restrict the development of various human embryonic stem cell therapies. Such therapies are apparently utilized to treat numerous human ailments including Parkinson’s, diabetes, genetic blood disorders and spinal cord injuries.
Yang Xu, a professor of biology who headed the team that published the report affirmed, “Human stem cell therapy involves differentiating human embryonic stem cells into the kinds of cells needed for the treatment. But this differentiation is never complete, meaning that the final product is a mixture of cells inevitably containing undifferentiated embryonic stem cells. So by transplanting these cells into a patient, there’s clearly a risk of producing teratomas.”
Apparently, the investigators have discovered a unique signaling pathway, which is considered important for unlimited self propagation of embryonic stem cells. Having utilized small molecule compounds inhibiting this pathway, the experts seemed to significantly lessen the potential of embryonic stem cells to form teratomas.
Xu quoted, “This is a proof of concept to show how we can avoid teratomas in human embryonic stem cell therapies by studying the basic biology of these cells. At this point, we only see a significant but partial effect because we are targeting only one pathway. Once we identify more pathways required for teratoma formation by embryonic stem cells, we might be able to completely suppress the formation of teratomas by targeting multiple pathways simultaneously.”
However, the risk of producing teratomas can probably be avoided by halting the propagation of human embryonic stem cells during lineage-specific differentiation even before they are transplanted.
The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.