In hopes of shedding light on the process of cancer initiation, neurodegenerative disorders, diabetes and other diseases, scientists have combined forces to learn how stem cell differentiation is controlled by microRNAs.
If you haven't read our previous posts, you're already asking yourself what RNA Interference (RNAi) is. It's a term worth getting familiar with if you're interested in the developing arena of stem cell research and its potential for regenerative medicine.
In 2006, IBM scientists, in a big step for computational biology, developed a mathematical model that led to a conjecture about an expanded role for microRNAs. The team decided to test the hypothesis by focusing on mouse stem cells. In the work that followed, IBM used computation to guide the experimental effort carried out by the Genome Institute of Singapore.
Working with three microRNAs whose expression increases upon differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs), the teams showed that Nanog, Oct4 and Sox2, three transcription factors that are central to maintaining the pluripotency of mouse ESCs and determining the initiation of differentiation, are controlled through their amino acid coding region by these three microRNAs. By introducing mutations at the identified target locations, the two teams showed that they could prevent the down-regulation of these transcription factors and delay stem cell differentiation.
"This discovery has vast implications for the role that computational models can play in biological science," said Ajay Royyuru, senior manager for the Computational Biology Center at IBM Research. "Computational biology allows scientists to develop theories using powerful computers and even preliminarily prove those theories prior to conducting experiments in wet labs – which reduces the time spent on trial and error throughout the process of scientific discovery."
Adapted from the announcement by IBM and Genome Institute of Singapore.