Scientists have discovered a way to effectively engineer new thyroid cells from stem cells. The study, performed in mice, could be the first step towards a better understanding and treatment of thyroid diseases.
Thyroid diseases occur when the thyroid gland that produces hormones, and controls metabolism, is overactive (Hyperthyroidism), or underactive (hypothyroidism). Hyperthyroidism has symptoms such as disturbed sleep, nervousness, muscle weakness, irritability, vision problems, and unexplained weight loss, which can severely impact on a person’s quality of life. Hypothyroidism symptoms include fatigue, weight gain and feeling depressed.
Thyroid conditions affect millions of people worldwide, most of which are chronic and can only be managed and not cured. It is estimated that up to 60% of thyroid conditions go undiagnosed, which is problematic as this can lead to other serious diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, infertility and osteoporosis.
The study, led by Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) in Massachusetts found a way to develop genetically modified embryonic stem cells from mice into thyroid cells using a gene called Nkx2.
Stem cells are unique because they have the potential to develop into various different types of cells depending on signals and genetic switches they are given as they mature.
By switching this gene on and off again for short periods within a specific time frame the majority of stem cells were converted into thyroid cells in the majority of cases.
A step in the right direction?
Researchers believe that the discovery is the first step toward effectively using human stem cells in the same way. This could be a groundbreaking step in creating research models and new treatments for thyroid diseases, and even applying this same principle to other cell types.
Senior Author of the study, Professor Laertis Ikonomou said:
“This method resulted in high yield of our target cell type, thyroid cells, but it may be applicable for the derivation of other clinically relevant cell types such as lung cells, insulin-producing cells, liver cells, etc.”
Mice are commonly used in first step trials of stem cell treatments due to their genetic similarities, and therefore more straightforward replication of human conditions. Ajan Reginald is involved in many areas of research using stem cell therapy, and regularly reports on the latest industry news.