When an embryonic stem cell is in the first stage of its development it has the potential to grow into any type of cell in the body, a state scientists call undifferentiated. A team of researchers from Scotland has now demonstrated a way to easily distinguish undifferentiated embryonic stem cells from later-stage stem cells whose fate is sealed.
The researchers used an electric field to pull stem cells through a fluid in a process called dielectrophoresis. They varied the frequency of the voltage used to generate the electric field and studied how the cells moved, a response that was affected by the cell's electrical properties. The researchers found that differentiated stem cells could store a significantly greater charge on their outer membranes, a characteristic that might be used to effectively identify and separate them from undifferentiated cells.
The researchers write that the wrinkling, folding, and thinning of a cell's membrane as it differentiates may explain why the later-stage cells can store more charge. The sorting method may prove useful in separating cells for biomedical research or ultimately for treatments of diseases such as Parkinson's.
Illustration: Microsoft clipart.
American Institute of Physics News (01/03/13)
Science Daily (01/03/13)
Abstract (Biomicrofluidics; Vol. 6, Issue 4 (12/12/12))