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Posted 03.14.05

Human Embryonic Stem Cells Grow More Effectively In Low-Oxygen Conditions

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Researchers grow human embryonic stems (hES) cells because of their potential applications, including tissue repair and replacement and treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. A problem with growing these cells is the rapid pace and spontaneity at which they change, or differentiate, making it difficult for researchers to isolate them for specific functions. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia have found that hES cells will grow in a more predictable manner if the researchers are able to control the oxygen level of the cell’s environment to mimic the environment of a natural mammalian reproductive tract.

In addition, R. Michael Roberts, Distinguished Curators Professor of animal sciences and director of MU's Life Sciences Center, along with MU researchers Toshihiko Ezashi and Padmalaya Das, discovered that hES cells divide at the same rate in low-oxygen environments with a 3 to 5 percent oxygen level as they do under normal environments with oxygen levels of 21 percent. The findings will be published in this week's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS).

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"We found that the trick to growing human embryonic stem cells is to maintain them under the same conditions under which embryos develop naturally," Roberts said. "In low-oxygen conditions, the cells differentiate much less rapidly. They still grow at the same rate, but the differentiation is much slower."

Roberts said the findings will benefit scientists who are conducting research with hES cells by reducing the amount of labor required to effectively manage the differentiation process and by making the cells easier to grow with a specific cell type in mind.

"This is just a way of manipulating these cells in a way to make them more useful," Roberts said. "The real value in this is in the area of tissue replacement."



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