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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M pursues research with stem cells

While the nation debates the pros and cons of human embryonic stem cell research, two Texas A&M scientists are trying to unlock stem cell secrets from a less controversial angle – by focusing on cells taken from animals.
Although many researchers feel human embryonic stem cells hold the most research promise, others think research can proceed using adult stem cells and animal research.
Dr. Sumana Datta, professor in Texas A&M’s Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, is studying what triggers stem cells in the brain to divide and grow.
In particular, she is using fruit flies to look at how certain biochemical signals create patterns of stem cell division in the developing brain.
“Stem cells are usually quiescent – kind of like they are taking a nap. We are trying to find out how the body tells the stem cells of the brain when they are needed,” Datta said.
This issue is of particular interest because cancer cells appear to resemble stem cells that are growing out of control, Datta said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jorge Piedrahita, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, focuses on stem cells from pig embryos and fetuses.
Piedrahita’s lab has successfully isolated the stem cells and is now working on steering them into the desired developmental pathway, a task that is often challenging for stem cell researchers.
Ultimately, he would like to genetically modify animals such as pigs and cattle to create animals that can be used as human organ donors.
Although stem cell research is still in the early stages, many scientists feel that this work has the potential to give rise to innovative treatments for a wide range of diseases.
Scientists such Datta and Piedrahita hope one day to apply what is learned from animal stem cells to human treatments, or even use animal tissues directly to repair damaged organs in humans.
Despite optimism about animal studies, animal studies can never replace human stem cell studies.
“We can get a lot of good information out of animal studies,” Datta said, “but we can never know what is true for humans and what is different in humans until we look at human data.”

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