The Battalion

Stem cells reveal cause of diseases

By Alec Goetz

Published: Sunday, July 11, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Michael Golding, associate professor in the veterinary physiology and pharmacology department who specializes in fetal diseases, made use of stem cells to discover the processes by which certain diseases and other health problems develop in the human body. His work was published in the scientific journal Cell Stem Cell.

Different types of stem cells have unique methods to combat retroviral integration, the process by which some viruses insert into the host's DNA and cause diseases such as AIDS.

"We discovered that each stem cell lineage has its own methods of expressing genes and silencing retroviruses," Golding said. "This is different from what we used to believe, which is that each type of stem cell used similar mechanisms."

Using mouse embryo stem cells infected with mouse leukemia virus, Golding observed how the different stem cell lineages responded to the retroviral infection. He found that one lineage, extraembryonic endoderm cells, attacked the infection with an extremely aggressive response using an epigenetic control mechanism, which is a mechanism that controls whether the DNA is open, or tightly coiled.

The data gathered from the experiment has also led to breakthroughs in understanding the profound impact chemicals in the environment have on fetal development.

"In in-vitro fertilization, often the placenta does not develop properly, and we had no idea what caused the problems," Golding said. "Now we're led to believe it's because the different mechanisms used by the TS cells leave them more vulnerable to toxins and chemicals in the environment that they ordinarily would not be exposed to."

For Golding, the publication of his results represents three years of work. "It's sort of my masterpiece,"  he said.

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