Harvard Medicine

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Keeping Stats

Photo credit: Mattias PaludiAs sports enthusiasts know, keeping score is crucial to understanding any game. It turns out that keeping score is also helpful to scientists who work with stem cells—knowing the “score” of the cell line they are working with can indicate much about the research they conduct and the results they can expect.

Researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) have collaborated with the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT to create a “scorecard” to compare how stem cell lines match up against each other. The tool provides a quick, accurate way to test a stem cell’s pluripotency; that is, its ability to be reprogrammed to become a different cell type. The team at HSCI, led by Alexander Meissner, an assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University, conducted a genomic analysis of 20 frequently used human embryonic stem cell lines (hESCs), the gold standard in stem cells, and created reference maps of them. Working with Kevin Eggan, a professor in the School’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and in the Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, the researchers then compared 20 hESC lines with 12 induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines. The comparison showed that the iPSC lines exhibited a pattern of variation similar to that of the reference hESCs in Meissner’s map.

The researchers compared how well each of the two cell types grew into motor neurons and found that, with some coaxing, the iPSCs were just as successful as the hESCs. The researchers suggest that this assessment tool may allow for more effective ways to use stem cells to study disease development and therapy.

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