Posted on Feb 10, 2017, 6 a.m.
Researchers have identified a way to engineer new thyroid cells from stem cells, which could lead to new thyroid disease treatments.
A recent report published in the medical journal Stem Cell Reports, sheds light on breakthrough research regarding the use of thyroid cells derived from stem cells for new therapies. Scientists at Boston University's School Medicine led the work. They have pinpointed a means of efficiently engineering thyroid cells by way of stem cells that will eventually help analyze and treat thyroid diseases.
Why the Thyroid is so Important
The thyroid is a gland positioned in the mid-section of the lower neck. When this gland does not function as designed, it wreaks all sorts of havoc on the body. Thyroid diseases occur when the gland is hyperactive and generates excessive hormones (hyperthyroidism) or generates too few hormones (hypothyroidism). Though the thyroid is fairly diminutive, it generates hormones that extend to tissues, cells and organs throughout the body to maintain a regulated metabolism. The metabolism is vitally important as it determines the rate at which the human body produces energy through oxygen and nutrients.
It is estimated that about 20 million individuals in the United States are plagued by a form of thyroid disease. A whopping 60 percent of these cases are never diagnosed. Unfortunately, thyroid disorders are life-long or chronic conditions that often prove quite challenging to manage. When thyroid diseases are undiagnosed, they can lead to particularly nasty health conditions ranging from osteoporosis to cardiovascular diseases and even infertility. Medical professionals are not completely certain as to what causes thyroid diseases.
Details About the Discovery
The breakthrough described above was discovered after studies were performed on mice. Stem cells are valued as they can mature into an array of different cell types. The researchers referenced above have determined how to transform the genetically modified stem cells from mice into thyroid cells. They determined there is a specific “window” during cell development to perform the transformation in an efficient manner. The group switched the Nkx2-1 gene off/on while guiding the lab-cultured stem cells through development stages. When the gene was “on”, most stem cells were transformed to thyroid cells in a small period of time.
What it Means for the Future
This discovery will likely allow for new research models and breakthrough treatments for thyroid diseases. It is anticipated that new thyroid cells for humans will eventually be engineered so medical professionals can better study and mitigate thyroid diseases. The principle might even apply to additional cell types to boot.
Keri Dame et al. Thyroid Progenitors Are Robustly Derived from Embryonic Stem Cells through Transient, Developmental Stage-Specific Overexpression of Nkx2-1. Stem Cell Reports, February 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2016.12.024