Computer engineer Andrew Cohen was designing software to use in high-performance graphics when he left industry for academia and decided to apply his work to a field where the stakes are somewhat higher.

Now, the assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM) is creating software that offers a completely novel approach to analyzing time-lapse images capturing live stem cell behaviors. It could lead to new stem cell-based therapies and also new research into causes of cancer, which involves cells that continuously self-renew.

Michael Longaker, MD and Jospeh Wu, MD and PhDTiny circles of DNA are the key to a new and easier way to transform stem cells from human fat into induced pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine, say scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Unlike other commonly used techniques, the method, which is based on standard molecular biology practices, does not use viruses to introduce genes into the cells or permanently alter a cell's genome.

It is the first example of reprogramming adult cells to pluripotency in this manner, and is hailed by the researchers as a major step toward the use of such cells in humans. They hope that the ease of the technique and its relative safety will smooth its way through the necessary FDA approval process.

Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center (JDC) have taken a major step toward eventually understanding — and perhaps slowing — the aging process.

In a series of careful experiments, Amy J. Wagers and colleagues have demonstrated that the stem cells of old mice exposed to certain factors present in blood from young mice begin to act like young stem cells, with the process driven by signals from another type of cell nearby in the bone. In fact, not only do the blood stem cells begin to take on characteristics of younger cells, but the tissues of old mice exposed to this yet-to-be-identified factor or factors appear to be much more “youthful.

Marcus Wernig, MDEven Superman needed to retire to a phone booth for a quick change. But now scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have succeeded in the ultimate switch: transforming mouse skin cells in a laboratory dish directly into functional nerve cells with the application of just three genes. The cells make the change without first becoming a pluripotent type of stem cell — a step long thought to be required for cells to acquire new identities.

The finding could revolutionize the future of human stem cell therapy and recast our understanding of how cells choose and maintain their specialties in the body.

Paul KHavari, MD, PhDby Krista Conger

Like as not, the recent holidays probably included some reminiscing about family history. There may even have been some remonstrations and recommendations from well-meaning elders to younger kin about their lives’ paths. It turns out stem cells have a similar need for long-term memory to help them know who they are and what they should become. Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have now identified a molecule involved in keeping skin stem cells on the straight and narrow.

“We’re starting to understand the molecular mechanism of cellular memory,” said Paul Khavari, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology. “How a stem cell remembers what it is, and why it might go astray.”

by Susan Brown

Biologists have developed an efficient way to genetically modify human embryonic stem cells. Their approach, which uses bacterial artificial chromosomes to swap in defective copies of genes, will make possible the rapid development of stem cell lines that can both serve as models for human genetic diseases and as testbeds on which to screen potential treatments.

“This will help to open up the whole human embryonic stem cell field. Otherwise, there’s really few efficient ways you can study genetics with them,” said Yang Xu, professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego who directed the research, which was funded by California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the state’s stem cell research agency, established after the passage of Proposition 71.

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