This can be called as the major step towards understanding of the stem cell growth and differentiation mechanisms. The Minerva Biotechnologies,in collaboration with the University of California discovered that a single, new growth factor can not only support massive growth of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) in vitro, but also maintains them in a nearly 100% undifferentiated state without the need for fibroblast “feeder cells”.
The study, led by Minerva’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Cynthia Bamdad, discovered that a cell surface protein, MUC1, is in an altered form, MUC1*, on pluripotent embryonic stem cells but returns to its normal form when the stem cells begin to differentiate. This suggests that this receptor may be a pivotal switch in the process of differentiation. The investigators showed that by adding the growth factor that binds to MUC1* they could expand the hESCs and maintain pluripotency essentially indefinitely, yet commence differentiation upon removal of the factor.
The present study provides evidence of a fundamental growth mechanism that mediates the growth of both cancer cells and embryonic stem cells. The hunt for a stem cell mechanism that is “hijacked by cancer cells” was a challenge because it involved a molecular change that was only apparent when “viewed” using Minerva’s proprietary nanoparticles.