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Highlights in Chemical Biology

Chemical biology news from across RSC Publishing.



Searching for stem cells


09 January 2009

Scientists have linked different technologies to locate stem cell reservoirs in tissue. 

During pregnancy the mammary gland goes through changes which suggest the tissue contains a reservoir of undifferentiated cells - cells that can convert into more specialised types. 'The question is: where are these stem cells located?' asks Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US, who led the team behind the research.

Label retaining cell cluster

Label retaining cells form small, non-random clusters in large mammary ducts

The researchers from the US and Spain built a computational microscopy platform that integrates image acquisition, storage, processing and allows them to analyse images of cells in tissue statistically. This approach makes it possible to look at cell populations at different scales - from the whole organ to tissue details and the single cell - which the researchers hope will allow them to understand how cells are affected by different microenvironments within the same tissue.

"This important new approach should help in identifying and characterising the mammary stem cell niche in the three dimensional context of the mammary gland."
- Jeffrey Rosen
The team used the method to look at the architecture of mouse mammary glands, widely used as a biological model for the human equivalent, explains Barcellos-Hoff. Her group labelled cells in the mammary glands of mice going through puberty. By monitoring the location of the label in cells in images from the same mice in adulthood and applying the statistical analysis, they were able to identify reservoirs of undifferentiated cells. 

Jeffrey Rosen is an expert in mammary gland biology at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, US, and welcomes the research. 'Being able to identify and localise label-retaining cells using a computational microscopy platform represents a major advance in the field,' he says. 'This important new approach should help in identifying and characterising the mammary stem cell niche in the three dimensional context of the mammary gland.'

Russell Johnson

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Link to journal article

Mapping mammary gland architecture using multi-scale in situ analysis
Rodrigo Fernandez-Gonzalez, Irineu Illa-Bochaca, Bryan E. Welm, Markus C. Fleisch, Zena Werb, Carlos Ortiz-de-Solorzano and Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff, Integr. Biol., 2009, 1, 80
DOI: 10.1039/b816933k

Also of interest

A different approach to stem cell research

Studies reveal what makes stem cells change and how to make them stay the same

Integrating biology and technology
Integr. Biol., 2009, 1, 14
DOI: 10.1039/b818604a