Improving Health & Medicine

Stem Cells, Changing Fast

E-News • TAGS: Biology, Stem cells


Stem cell research is one of the fastest-moving fields of science today, with new findings coming one after another. At the Weizmann Institute of Science, in just the past several months alone researchers have discovered important new information about how stem cells grow, differentiate, and can be reprogrammed. Such achievements are the outcome of scientific curiosity, ingenuity, and endurance, as well as support provided by farsighted donors.

Just a few advances in stem cell research include:

  • iPS Cells and Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Jacob Hanna – a leading stem cell researcher not just at Weizmann, but globally – developed a method for producing induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which paves the way for using such “custom made” cells in transplants, and opens exciting possibilities for studying complex diseases in a petri dish. This method received worldwide attention when Dr. Hanna published his results.
  • Stem Cell DNA Repair Systems. Our DNA is attacked about 50,000 times a day, which can lead to disease. While DNA has a sophisticated repair mechanism, sometimes it fails. Prof. Zvi Livneh is studying the mechanisms of DNA repair in stem and iPS cells, with the goal of reducing cancer risk caused by using therapies based on these cells.
  • Stem Cells in Bone Marrow Transplantation. Although Prof. Yair Reisner’s methods enabling transplants are already saving lives around the world, he is not resting. He and his team are investigating the use of bone marrow transplantation (BMT) to enable subsequent organ transplants from the same donor without continuous immunosuppressive therapy, which is damaging; they are also working to minimize transplant-related mortality by eliminating graft-versus-host-disease risk. The group recently developed a stem cell protocol that resulted in safer BMTs for elderly patients or others who do not need, or cannot tolerate, radiation and chemo.
  • The Collective Behavior of Intestinal Stem Cells. Systems biologist Dr. Shalev Itzkovitz developed computational tools and a tagging and imaging technique that he is now applying to his studies of mammalian biology. By using mathematical analysis with his imaging results, he hopes to uncover novel design principles in the development of structures that are part of the intestinal wall. A fresh recruit to the Institute, Dr. Itzkovitz is using his new lab and applying the above techniques to study how cells work together to reach their goals.

Many other Weizmann investigators are also making tremendous advances in stem cell research, from patenting a technology to direct cells to desired differentiation pathways to identifying key molecules in the differentiation potential of mesenchymal stem cells, the forefathers of muscle, fat, cartilage, and other cell types.

Friends like you keep stem cell research moving forward, and moving quickly, bringing medicine into the future … for the benefit of humanity.

A Stem Cell Primer

Germ cells: Precursors of eggs and sperm.

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells: iPS cells have regenerative properties almost identical to those of embryonic stem cells, but can be created from adult cells without using an egg or fetal material.

Mesenchymal stem cells: Multipotent stem cells located in the bone marrow that can differentiate into, for example, osteoblast bone cells and chondrocyte cartilage cells.

Pluripotent stem cells: Cells with almost unlimited potential for differentiation (e.g., embryonic stem cells).

Primordial cells: A group of cells that constitutes an embryo, organ, or tissue in its earliest recognizable stage of development (e.g., primordial germ cells will differentiate into mature germ-line stem cells).

Progenitor cells: The progeny of stem cells, these cells have the capacity to give rise to mature cells, which are incapable of further differentiation.

Stem cell niche: The microenvironment in which stem cells are found, which interacts with stem cells to regulate stem cell fate.

Stromal cells: The cells that make up the support structure of biological tissues.

Totipotent stem cells: Cells capable of developing into a complete organism or differentiating into any of its cells or tissues.