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What's new in July 2020

Protecting beta cells against type 1 diabetes

Beta cells.
To treat type 1 diabetes, scientists have learned how to grow large volumes of insulin-producing beta cells to replace the ones destroyed by the patient’s immune system. However, those replacement cells are also subject to attack from the immune system — so HSCI scientists Stephan Kissler and Peng Yi have identified a potential strategy to protect the cells
  • What they did: The researchers used a CRISPR screening method to search the genome, looking for gene mutations that protected the beta cell.
  • What they found: When cells lacked the renalase gene, they were protected from immune attack. Pargyline, an FDA-approved drug, was able to inhibit renalase and increase beta cell survival.
  • Why it matters: The results may lead to the development of new drugs that could help protect transplanted beta cells, or even slow the original onset of the disease.

The real reason behind goosebumps

Hair follicle.
Why do we get goosebumps when we're cold, even though the reaction doesn't seem to immediately help us? HSCI scientist Ya-Chieh Hsu has figured out why: the cells that cause goosebumps are also important for regulating the stem cells that regenerate the hair follicle and hair.
  • What they did: The researchers studied the different cell types inside the hair follicle, using electron microscopy to observe how the cells interact in extremely high detail.
  • What they found: The muscle that contracts to create goosebumps is necessary to bridge the sympathetic nerve's connection to hair follicle stem cells. The sympathetic nerve reacts to cold by contracting the muscle and causing goosebumps in the short term, and by driving hair follicle stem cell activation and new hair growth over the long term.
  • Why it matters: By understanding this interaction, researchers have a model to study how stem cell activity and tissue regeneration can be coupled with body physiology as well as changes in the external environment.

A global conference on the latest stem cell research

This summer, HSCI co-sponsored the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. Held virtually for the first time, the conference brought together close to 4,000 scientists from 59 countries to discuss the latest in stem cell research, as well as how to apply expertise in the field to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
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