Researchers from the University of Connecticut and Yale University announced Monday they have uncovered a key gene in human embryonic stem cell development also enhances stem cell growth and survival.
The schools hailed the finding Monday -- to be published in the March issue of the journal Stem Cells -- as fruit of the state's $100 million public investment in stem cell research.
The UConn and Yale researchers said the finding could lead to new insights into how stem cells regenerate or repair damaged tissue in a host of diseases.
"This is a fine example of how our state's funding can bring researchers from different institutions in the state together to generate synergy," said Haifan Lin, professor of cell biology and of genetics, director of the Yale Stem Cell Center and co-author of the paper.
The research team focused on Lin28, one of a handful of key genes that together can make fully mature human cells become stem cells.
Using sophisticated gene sequencing technology at UConn's Stem Cell Institute and Translational Genomics Core Facility in Farmington, the researchers found that Lin28 activates targeted groups of genetic molecules -- called messenger RNAs -- within cells in order to create proteins that are crucial in maintaining stem cell function and survival.
Lin28 was previously known for its role in controlling the function of certain microRNAs as part of stem cell development.
The Yale and UConn scientists discovered an entirely new function of the Lin28 gene: enhancing the growth and creation of embryonic stem cells. The schools said a reviewer of the paper called the data a "treasure trove" of information about the function of Lin28.
"We knew that Lin28 affects the expression of some important microRNAs," said co-author Gordon Carmichael, UConn professor of genetics and developmental biology. "But we were surprised to find that it is doing something we didn't expect it to do. What Lin28 is doing is making all these stem cells work better. It's improving cell metabolism, helping those cells that are weaker survive."
The work was overseen by senior author Yingqun Huang, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine.