Safer stem cell method achieved

A group of researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and other institutions have made a significant advance in stem cell research by converting adult cells all the way back to the most primitive embryoniclike cells without using the undesirable genes or viruses associated with previous methods. The new method doesn’t require the destruction of an embryo.

The work builds on a groundbreaking technique developed a few years ago in Japan to coax adult skin cells back to a stem cell state. This was done by inserting genes to stimulate the production of proteins that triggered the transformation. Unfortunately, a number of safety concerns arose. Among them, the presence of foreign DNA in the cells made transplantation impractical.

The basis of the new TSRI method involves creation of the desired proteins outside of the cell and then inserting them, achieving the same results in a safer manner.

Having a source of the most primitive stem cells available would be useful in many medical situations because these cells are “pluripotent” (pluri - many, potent - power), with the ability to become any of the body’s cell types. Harnessing this ability could ultimately lead to the repair of damaged tissues throughout the body.

The current study is published online in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Ocean initiative launched

The ocean is the planet’s largest ecosystem. Thanks to a $400 million Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), funded by the National Science Foundation, an array of more than 50 diverse sensor types and other scientific instruments will collect data and communicate through permanently installed seafloor cables and satellite telemetry.

In addition to the scientific community, teachers, students, and the general public will be able to view and interact with this data on the OOI Web site. Partners in the OOI network include the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, both at UCSD. Final design approval from the NSF is expected later this spring.

Alcohol and teen brain

“White matter” is the part of the brain made up of axons, the long nerve fibers that carry the electrical signals between neurons (nerve cells) critical for relaying information within the brain. Researchers have long known that the integrity of white matter is compromised in adult alcoholics, but how early in life can damage begin?

A study by UCSD School of Medicine researchers of binge drinking by teenagers showed lower coherence of white matter fibers in a variety of regions in the still-developing brain.

Heavy episodic or “binge” drinking is common among adolescents, with 55 percent of high-school seniors reporting having gotten drunk, and a quarter of them reporting having consumed five or more drinks in a row.

Results will be published online in July in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.