When scientists talk about laboratory stem cells being totipotent or pluripotent, they mean that the cells have the potential, like an embryo, to develop into any type of tissue in the body. What totipotent stem cells can do that pluripotent ones can't do, however, is develop into tissues that support the embryo, like the placenta. These are called extra-embryonic tissues, and are vital in development and healthy growth. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute, in collaboration with researchers from Peking University, in China, are reporting their discovery of a chemical cocktail that enables cultured mouse and human stem cells to do just that: generate both embryonic and extra-embryonic tissues. Their technique, described in the April 6, 2017 issue of Cell, could yield new insights into mammalian development that lead to better disease modeling, drug discovery and even tissue regeneration. This new technique is expected to be particularly useful for modeling early developmental processes and diseases affecting embryo implantation and placental function, possibly paving the way for improved in vitro fertilization techniques. The Cell article is titled” Derivation of Pluripotent Stem Cells with In Vivo Embryonic and Extraembryonic Potency.” "During embryonic development, both the fertilized egg and its initial cells are considered totipotent, as they can give rise to all embryonic and extra-embryonic lineages. However, the capture of stem cells with such developmental potential in vitro has been a major challenge in stem cell biology," says Salk Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Bemonte, Ph.D., co-senior author of the paper and holder of Salk's Roger Guillemin Chair.
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