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Stem Cell Mutations Explored

By Stephen Luntz

Why do some stem cells acquire genetic mutations when cultured?

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The fact that pluripotent stem cells sometimes become genetically unstable has been one of the major barriers to the use of stem cells to treat medical conditions.

An international study has provided some hints as to why some stem cells acquire genetic mutations when cultured, with Nature Biotechnology reporting the results after culturing 127 human embryonic stem (HES) cells lines and 11 induced pluripotent (iPS) stem cell lines.

“While it is reassuring that 75% of the stem cell lines studied remained normal after prolonged growth in the laboratory, detecting and eliminating abnormal cells is an absolute prerequisite for clinical use of stem cell products,” says Prof Martin Pera of Stem Cells Australia and co-author of the paper.

The cell lines were taken from an ethnically diverse population, but if there was a pattern to the instability Pera says it may be in where and how the culturing was done. “There are a number of different culturing techniques, and it may be that some are more prone to abnormalities than others,” he says.

Some labs had abnormality rates well above the 25% average, and Pera says this may result from a preference for a particular method, although the fact that a lab will often deal with similar cell lines could also be a factor.

“Mutations are probably popping up randomly all the time, just as in cells in the body...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.