Stem Cells: Researchers Can Study What Pollution Does To Human Health Through Them

First Posted: Aug 10, 2015 08:00 PM EDT

New findings published in the Journal of Environmental Sciences reveals that researchers may have effectively found a new way to test the effects of pollutants on human cells through the investigation of Bisphenol A (BPA).

"Contrary to traditional in vitro assays and animal tests, embryonic stem cells have a huge benefit because they offer the advantage to grow indefinitely in dishes yet possess the ability to differentiate to mimic embryonic development, and virtually into any kind of cells of an adult organism," said Francesco Faiola, a professor at the State Key Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology in China, in a press release. "For instance, they can differentiate in dishes as three dimensional aggregates called embryoid bodies resembling the early stages of embryonic development. Therefore, they can be utilized in developmental toxicity assays, without the need of animal experiments."

In this latest study, researchers used embryonic mouse stem cell samples with BPA that are known to cause diabetes, developmental abnormalities and heart disease in humans. With the help of biochemical and cell-based assays, researchers worked to measure primary germ layers, such as endoderm and ectoderm, along with the establishment of neural progenitor cells--all of which indicate that BPA may alter embryonic development.

"Our stem cell toxicology system proved to be very sensitive and reflective of the physiological toxic effects of BPA," Faiola added. "What's even more valuable is the fact that this system can be applied to assess numerous other pollutants for their toxicity or lethality without the expenses of time-consuming animal models."

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