Here are some stem cell stories that caught our eye this past week. Some are groundbreaking science, others are of personal interest to us, and still others are just fun.
A special post on stem cells and reproductive health
Mom needs to balance her Omegas. To produce a healthy baby with a robust brain you need young vigorous nerve stem cells. But when mothers-to-be eat a diet with too much of one omega fat and not enough of another, the nerve stem cells in the fetus age too quickly, and produce offspring with smaller brains and abnormal behavior—at least in a mouse study.
A similar diet can occur in human populations where more oils come from nuts and other seeds that have mostly Omega 6 fats rather than fish that have oils with Omega 3 fats. Researchers at Japan’s Tohoku University published the study on the impact of a diet with an omega fat imbalance in the journal Stem Cells and the university posted a press release on EurekAlert.
Dad’s diet can impact offspring, too. Several groups published studies recently showing a man’s diet can impact his fertility and the health of any offspring. One of those studies linked a low protein diet to changes in genes responsible for the healthy development of stem cells in the fetus.
That mouse study was published this week in Science along with a second study on male mice that consumed a high fat diet and produced offspring with a reduced ability to process sugars. A story on Yahoo News briefly describes the two studies along with a couple others on father’s diets from the past two years.
Lab-grown fallopian tubes—or bits of them. A woman’s fallopian tubes, those tiny shafts that transport eggs from the ovary to the uterus, present a major challenge to researchers trying to improve fertility. The cause of infertility for many couples may reside in those tiny tubes but they are almost impossible to study in the developing fetus or adults.
A German research team made major strides in overcoming this barrier by growing bits of the inner portion of fallopian tubes in the lab. They used cells from the lining of donor fallopian tubes that have stem cell-like qualities and grew them in conditions that mimicked the environment of that portion of the growing embryo. Like many other teams who have grown mini organs, or organoids, they found that if you choose the right cells they have an incredible ability to self-form multilayered complex tissues. In this case the epithelial cells they used formed hollow spheres that have the characteristics of natural fallopian tubes.
“That happened without any additional instruction whatsoever,” one of the researchers, Mirjana Kessler, told Science alert. “The entire blueprint of the fallopian tube must therefore be stored in the epithelial cells.”
The work is far from being able to offer a woman with damaged fallopian tubes a new chance for fertility. But it does offer researchers a great new tool for studying how the tiny organs form and potentially how to repair them.
And for the men, potential lab grown testicles. The Wake Forest team led by Anthony Atala that has pioneered growing simple organs such as urinary tract bladders from stem cells, has now grown tiny human testicles in the lab. However, none of their miniature organs grown so far could never produce enough product to fully do its job.
“The future plans are to grow the testicular tissue, expand the cells and put it back into the patient,” Atala, told Motherboard in a story quoted in LatinosHealth. “But for a whole testicle, there is a very rich blood-vessel supply and that’s the challenge. We can make them small, but we’re working hard to make them larger.”
The U.S. Defense Department funds the work because of the number of soldiers who have had their reproductive ability damaged by war injuries. However, everyone on the research team predicts it will be many years before they can make fully functional organs to help out these war heroes.