JUN 13, 2023 8:03 AM PDT

Stem Cell "Village in a Dish" Advances Research

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Stem cells are a kind of blank slate; these cells are able to specialize or differentiate into various types of cells. Researchers also now know how to make stem cells from several adult cell types, so they can be widely used in research. Samples can also be taken from patients, and used to create cells that can be experimented with and studied in the laboratory. But to perform these studies, many cells had to be harvested from a lot of different donors, and then grown separately. Now researchers have developed a method for studying stem cells from many different people in the same dish, which could have major implications for the study of complex traits, drug safety, or personalized medicine.

Image credit: Pixabay

The research team has called this method a "village in a dish" system, and  it has been reported in the open-access journal Nature Communications. The investigators showed that by studying stem cells from many donors in the same culture dish, cell culture studies could be up to one hundred times more efficient.

"Our village model provides a powerful way to understand how genetic differences between people influence health and disease," noted senior study author Professor Joseph Powell, Director of Cellular Science at the Garvan Institute, among other appointments. "Even though we share the majority of our DNA, variations in our genes lead to unique traits and responses. The village system captures this diversity at a large scale, revealing how genetic differences between people affect the complex mechanisms underlying biology and disease."

Techniques used by population genomics researchers tend to use RNA that has been collected from many cells, integrated, then assessed. This method can make it very challenging to see small differences between single cells, because the effects are being averaged among a group. This could lead to researchers to make inaccurate conclusions.

In this village approach, stem cells are derived from multiple donors, then grown together, and finally, analyzed with single-cell sequencing. Applying single-cell sequencing to many different dishes could be prohibitively expensive or challenging, but the researchers showed in this study that the crucial features of individual cell cultures were retained. With this tool, scientists can get a population-level look without needing a lab stuffed to the rafters with cell culture incubators.

Animal models are also used in biomedical research, but they don't always provide an accurate representation of human biology. Pluripotent stem cells can provide researchers with a complete genetic profile of patients, and they can be used to create nearly any cell type, said Powell.

"The translational potential of this research is particularly compelling. By studying cells from many individuals at once, we can identify genetic factors that influence disease and treatment response at an unprecedented scale," said first study author Dr. Drew Neavin, a postdoctoral researcher at Garvan.

Sources: Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Nature Communications

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Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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