Naive Embryonic Stem Cells Grown For The First Time

Research in the UK has succeeded in isolating and growing unique human early stage embryonic stem cells for the first time in history

What are naive embryonic stem cells?

Your usual embryonic stem cell or induced pluripotent stem cell (made from adult cells) are wonderful little things, but they're not perfect. We've known for a while that cells present even earlier in the embryo are even more flexible, and even less restricted in what cell types they can become. These cells have been found in other animals like mice, but no-one had ever successfully developed a human cell line.  

When embryonic cells are isolated form a developing embryo they're usually taken from the developing blastocyst a few days after fertilisation. They're still able to become a huge range of different cells, but they've already been subtly influenced and come with inbuilt signals pre-disposing them towards certain behaviour. The advantage of naive stem cells in theory is that they're, well naive. They could be an even more effective blank slate, with huge regenerative potential. 

"Until now it hasn't been possible to isolate these naive stem cells, even though we've had the technology to do it in mice for 30 years – leading some people to doubt it would be possible. But we've managed to extract the cells and grow them individually in culture"


A breakthrough

In their paper published in Stem Cell Reports, the team was able to isolate and maintain these naive stem cells from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst in a developing embryo. By altering their growth medium, they were able to prevent developmental progression and crucially preserve the level of naivety that makes these cells so promising. 

"Naive stem cells have many potential applications, from regenerative medicine to modelling human disorders"

These cells could also aid research modelling the developmental process and conditions like Down's Syndrome - in which additional sex chromosomes are present.  Because single naive cells were able to be isolated and cultured individually in this experiment, it demonstrates that specific dysfunctional ones could be studied and compared as well.

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