S'pore scientists' study advances understanding of stem cells

SINGAPORE - Scientists from the Genome Institute of Singapore, at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) have, for the first time, found evidence of how the differentiation of embryonic stem cells is controlled by a cell cycle clock.

In a statement on Friday, A*Star said that this deeper understanding of how cells become differentiated into specific cell types, such as red blood cells or muscle cells, is important when considering therapeutic potentials.

The cell cycle is divided into four phases, and previous studies had shown that cells only differentiated in one of the four phases, known as the G1 phase.

The new study provides the first evidence that embryonic stem cells, or cells which have not differentiated into specific types, actively resist differentiation in other phases of the cell cycle outside of the G1 phase.

The scientists also found that stem cells do not differentiate when its DNA had been damaged to prevent the formation of specialised cells with compromised genomic integrity.

The findings from the study were published in scientific journal Cell.

Dr Kevin Gonzales, a post-doctoral fellow at GIS and the lead author of the research, explained that the latest study had been performed on human cells, which made it more relevant than most studies that use the cells of mice.

Co-lead author, research fellow Dr Liang Hongqing added: "Our research has shifted the current paradigm from a G1-phase centric view in stem cell regulation to a balanced view that different cell cycle phases perform different roles to orchestrate the stem cell fate."

GIS executive director, Prof Ng Huck Hui, hailed the study as a huge step forward towards advancing fundamental understanding of human stem cells.

seanyap@sph.com.sg

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