Electronic pacemakers help patients' hearts keep proper time and beat with the right rhythm to keep them alive, a job usually done by specialized pacemaker cells in the heart. Patients who need pacemakers often don't have enough of these cells, and as a result, their hearts can beat too fast or too slow, endangering their lives. There may soon be a less invasive biological solution for folks suffering from irregular heartbeats, though -- researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute are reporting that they've developed a technique to turn normal heart tissue cells into time-keeping pacemaker cells with the insertion of just a single gene.
Researchers in Switzerland have applied the principles behind cellular communication to mammalian cells. By reprogramming the cells with a specialized series of genes and proteins that allow for two-way communication, researchers have crafted cells that can talk to one another, sending messages via chemical signals rather than electronic transmission. The hope is that this two-way communication system can be harnessed to fight cancer, overriding orders sent by tumors with preprogrammed messages sent from other cells.
Pluripotent stem cells are cells that can grow into any tissue. The ability to turn into any type of cell makes pluripotent stem cells a promising treatment for any number of disorders. However, this ability to differentiate into anything also comes with a dangerous side effect: The cells that don't turn into the desired tissue can instead form dangerous tumors called teratomas. However, researchers have now demonstrated a method to weed out the dangerous teratoma forming cells from the beneficial stem cells. Led by Micha Drukker, a team of researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine developed a new antibody that can identify the cells that don't differentiate into the needed tissue before they are transplanted into a patient. The researchers accomplished this by targeting pluripotency surface markers (PSMs,) which are changes within a cell that signify which type of cell it will become. The researchers targeted these specific cellular landmarks by developing antibodies that could seek out cells that did not differentiate.