Stem cells have the ability to regenerate tissue, but they can’t be used widely in medicine until scientists are certain how to control them. In experiments on mice a growth factor – erythropoietin (EPO) – is found to be important in controlling a type of stem cell generated by the placenta during pregnancy. These cells develop into the various kinds that form the infant’s blood; some remain in reserve to make blood in later life. If EPO is over-produced these ‘reserve’ stem cells begin to develop prematurely. In the right-hand image, too much EPO triggers the cells (each cell centre, or nucleus, is stained blue) to behave like blood. Blood cells in a mouse foetus form clusters. Normal levels of EPO (left) keep these stem cells in ‘reserve’ mode. Researchers will use this knowledge to expand the repertoire of safe stem cell therapies.
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