Researchers at Johns Hopkins have uncovered the molecular underpinnings of one of the earliest steps in human development using human embryonic stem cells. Their identification of a critical signal mediated by the protein BMP-4 that drives the differentiation of stem cells into what will become the placenta, will be published in the April issue of Cell Stem Cell.
The finding, they say, also highlights one aspect of human cell biology that has not been replicated in other animal model systems. And is virtually impossible to use anything other than human embryonic stem cells to gather information of this kind.
One reason for the excitement, the investigators say, is that the system can provide a research model to study very early human development, including the formation of placenta which develops from the same early embryo.
“The finding was serendipitous and at the same time a very important addition to our understanding of early human development,” says Linzhao Cheng, PhD, an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics and co-director of the stem cell program of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering. “This is one area of stem cell biology where human and mouse differ significantly and we never would have discovered this if we had limited our studies to using only mouse embryonic stem cells. Adult human stem cells just didn’t work for this.”
Release date: April 9, 2008
Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine