Stem cell research has the potential to one day treat femaleinfertility or repair damaged nerves and thus help paraplegias. Thiswas agreed by more than one hundred researchers discussing the latesttrends in stem cell research at a workshop in Kobe, staged as part ofthe Germany Year in Japan. The workshop was jointly organized by theErnst Schering Research Foundation (Berlin, Germany), the Max PlanckSociety (Munich, Germany) and the RIKEN Center for DevelopmentalBiology (Kobe, Japan).
"Once we have found the factors by which body cells can bere-programmed into stem cells, then therapeutic cloning might becomesuperfluous," said Hans R. Schöler, director of the Max PlanckInstitute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster, Germany, at aninternational scientific symposium on stem cell research in Kobe, Japan.
From September 1 - 3, 2005, acclaimed stem cell researchers fromaround the world met at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology(CDB) to discuss the current status of their science. The workshoptitled "Stem Cells in Reproduction and in the Brain" was held as partof the "Germany in Japan Year" 2005/2006 and was jointly organized bythe Ernst Schering Research Foundation, the Max Planck Society and theRIKEN CDB.
"The fact that cell biology is becoming increasinglycombined with molecular biology is a major step forward," Schölerexplained. The co-organizer of the symposium drew his confidence from aseries of lectures on the factors influencing the origin and thedifferentiation of stem cells.
Philippe Collas of the Universityof Oslo, Norway, for example, succeeded in converting human skin cellsback into a multi-potent stage with an extract mixture of pluri potentembryonic carcinoma cells. Jeong Tae Do of the Max Planck Institute inMünster showed that even differentiated body cells can be re-programmedinto embryonic stem cells. He merged brain cells from mice withembryonic stem cells. The result was a hybrid cell with a quadruple setof chromosomes. The cells did not differ from normal embryonic stemcells with regard to their molecular biological behavior.
Otherresearchers are finding the key to the opposite path: They aresearching for substances that contribute to the differentiation of stemcells.
Thus Tomohiro Kono of the Tokyo Agricultural University,Japan, presented the creation of mice through the union of two egg cellnuclei - in contrast to natural fertilization where nuclei from egg andsperm are combined. In doing so, Kono hopes to decipher the molecularmechanisms underlying imprinting. He showed a method for convertingmaternally imprinted genes to genes that can basically behave aspaternal types, thereby succeeding in generating a livingparthenogenetic mouse.
Shin-Ichi Nishikawa, Deputy Director ofRIKEN Center for Biological Development and co-organizer of thesymposium presented studies of the so-called "Notch gene", which helpsto maintain melanocyte stems cells in hair follicles alive. Itsover-expression, however, can become dangerous as it induces theincreased formation of pigment cells and so could contribute to thedevelopment of a melanoma.
Nishikawa praised the good cooperationof the three institutions/foundations that jointly organized theworkshop: "Our RIKEN Institute has been successfully collaborating withthe Max Planck Society for a long time." The cooperation with Scheringhas also become important since the Berlin-based pharmaceutical companyopened its research center in Kobe in 2004.
"The RIKEN CDB wasone of the reasons why we located our Japanese research center inKobe," emphasized Günter Stock, symposium president and member of theBoard of Executive Directors at Schering. "The Germany in Japan Year"offered a good opportunity to showcase the common interests in stemcell research that Max Planck Society, RIKEN, and Schering have with ajoint workshop." Regenerative medicine is currently one of the mostexciting areas of modern medicine, Stock stated. He asserted: "In thelast15 to 20 years we have found substantial factors that can stimulateadult stem cells to self-heal the body."
Two other sessionsemphasized the role of stem cells in reproduction and the nervoussystem. "Both are very exciting areas in which many unexpectedphenomena have been reported", said Shin-Ichi Nichikawa.
In oneof the highlights, Shin-Yong Moon of the Seoul National University,Korea, presented the experiments on obtaining the first human stem celllines by cloning. "These cell lines are not suitable for transplantinginto human beings," he explained. At this time, he and his colleaguesare focussing their research efforts on the fundamental principles ofcell development in order to gain a better understanding of diseases."There are still many hurdles to overcome before they can be used fortreatment."
Max Planck researcher Schöler and Mitinori Saitou ofthe RIKEN CDB are exploring the development of female germ cells.Schöler demonstrated how embryonic mouse cells can differentiate intoegg cells in cell culture. Here lies "the potential to treatinfertility in women someday." Saitou is investigating the molecularbiological switches that trigger germ cell formation in the body.
YuichiNiikura of the Harvard Medical School in Boston then refuted the beliefthat women cannot generate new egg cells because there is noself-renewal of stem cells in mature ovaries: "We believe that germstem cells are present in bone marrow." When needed, they would migrateto the ovaries and differentiate into new egg cells. This result couldalso become of great clinical importance one day, perhaps for treatinginfertility in women after cancer treatment.
Experiments withnervous system stem cells are already one step closer to clinicaldevelopment. Steve Goldman of the University of Rochester, USA, isexploring neuroglial stem cells. This nerve-protecting insulation layeris destroyed in many serious diseases such as multiple sclerosis.Goldman isolated neural stem cells from the brains of accident victimsand cultivated the precursors to glial cells. He transplanted them to amouse model that cannot produce myelin, a nerve insulating substancemade by glial cells. In this manner, he succeeded in completelyrepairing the insulation layer of certain nerves.
Hideyuki Okanoof the Keio University in Tokyo, Japan, intends to treat paraplegias.He showed that a commercially available antibody is able to suppressthe inflammation that occurs in connection with spinal cord injury andin doing so supports nerve regeneration. The first studies on humansare already planned.
Hans R. Schöler was full of eagerness whenhe closed the meeting: "The best meetings are those at which one canhardly wait, for sheer excitement, to get back to the laboratory - andthis was one of them" he said.
Cite This Page: