Paving a smooth road to stem cell therapies: Harvard team develops stem cell quality control index

Human embryonic stem cells (nuclei in green). How do you tell which are the best quality? Read on. (credit: Julie Baker, Stanford)

One of the exciting aspects of working on the cutting edge of science and technology research is that you get to build the “road” of knowledge as you drive down it. Still, at some point you need to add traffic signs, and on/off ramps to clearly define to others how to navigate smoothly through the new understandings.

You could say the stem cell field is in some respects at this juncture. A lot has been learned about human stem cell biology since human embryonic stem cells were derived in the late 90’s. And now that stem cell projects are beginning to make their way into clinical trials in people there is an important need for precise standards to make sure the cell therapies are reproducible, safe and effective.

Enter Dr. Kevin Kit Parker from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI). Parker and his research team just published a Stem Cell Reports article that strives to help stem cell scientists quantitatively compare cells to weed out the “bad” ones from the “good”. In their study, they found 64 key parameters with which to carry out quality control analysis on stem cell-derived heart muscle cells, or cardiac myocytes. Doug Melton, co-director of HSCI, pointed out the significance of this work in a Harvard Gazette article that was picked up by Phys.Org:

This addresses a critical issue. It provides a standardized method to test whether differentiated cells, produced from stem cells, have the properties needed to function. This approach provides a standard for the field to move toward reproducible tests for cell function, an important precursor to getting cells into patients or using them for drug screening.

This crucial work promises to provide a smooth path for the many stem cell-based therapies that are on the road to the clinic. For more analysis of this paper, see this summary by Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.

To learn more about CIRM-funded progress toward stem cell-based therapies, visit our website.

Todd Dubnicoff

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