Researchers at the Michigan State University (MSU) in the US have discovered a new kind of stem cell, which is claimed to make regenerative medicine advancements.
The new XEN cells or iXEN, will enable new ways to study birth defects and other reproductive problems.
Currently stem cell research focuses on new ways to make and use pluripotent stem cells, which can be created by reactivating embryonic genes to ‘reprogramme’ mature adult cells.
Reprogramming mature cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), allows them to become malleable building blocks that can morph into any cell in the body.
MSU researchers discovered colonies of iXEN cells popping up like weeds in the iPS cell cultures during a study.
The team tested iXEN using mice models for six months and identified that these genetic weeds are not cancer-like, as previously suspected, but in fact, a new kind of stem cell with advantageous properties.
MSU cell and molecular biology graduate student Tony Parenti said: "Other scientists may have seen these cells before, but they were considered to be defective, or cancer-like.
"Rather than ignore these cells that have been mislabelled as waste byproducts, we found gold in the garbage."
Prior to the discovery of reprogramming, scientists developed pluripotent stem cells from embryos.
The embryo produces not only pluripotent stem cells, but also XEN cells.
Pluripotent stem cells produce cells in the body, while XEN cells produce extraembryonic tissues that play an essential but indirect role in foetal development.
Image: Tony Parenti led a team of MSU scientists in discovering a new kind of stem cell. Photo: © Michigan State University.