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Scientists from Ghent and Leiden discover intermediate stage between embryo and stem cell

Scientists at the University of Ghent UZ Gent and their Dutch colleagues at the University of Leiden have discovered a type of intermediary phase between the embryo and stem cell which could result in the more efficient development of differentiated cells. “This breakthrough in stem cell research could have far-reaching effects on  regenerative medicine,” says Petra De Sutter, professor and head of the division for reproductive medicine at the University Hospital Ghent. Scientists from both universities have reported the results of their research in the science journal Nature Biotechnology.
Unlike ordinary body cells, stem cells are cells that can still develop into various types of cells with a specific character, making them most favourable for diverse medical applications.Research at the University Hospital Ghent is particularly focused on the process through which stem cells are created from embryos. “An embryo can reveal all genes in a way that is not possible for stem cells,” explains De Sutter. “Every cell actually has the same genes, but depending on the type of cell certain genes are either included or excluded, which is called differentiation.” During this recently discovered intermediate stage, cell colonies are picked up and turned into stem cells, including or excluding certain genes. This stage is referred to as PIMCI, i.e. post inner cell mass intermediate. A unique pattern of differentiation is seen, which is different to both the cells from the interim stage and the stem cells which they become. “If we could direct the cells during this stage, there would be great possibilities for differentiation and we could make all stem cell technology and regenerative medicine more efficient,” De Sutter adds. Conditions such as culture, oxygen quality and the addition of specific substances could have a huge impact on the potential for cell differentiation. Based on the study published in Nature,  Israeli scientist Jacob Hanna of the Weizman Institute of Science in Rehobot points to the possibility that stem cells could react differently in vitro than in vivo, which means that cells may be created which do not exist in real life.