UCSF Researchers Control Embryonic Stem Cells With Light

Human embryonic stem cells

Human embryonic stem cells

Reddit can be a very powerful tool if used properly. The site has a recurrent series called AMA (“ask me anything”). World leaders, artists, and prominent figures have been featured here. For our purposes, which are Biology related, I’ll share with you a recent Science AMA. Matt Thompson, a scientist from San Francisco California, wanted to understand how STEM cells specialize—with the hopes of one day directing their fates via lasers. Scientists are using lasers, 3D printing technologies, and stem cells to usher in a future that was only possible in the world of science fiction.

Imagine a day when researchers can illuminate a bath of undifferentiated stem cells with a pattern of different colors of light and come back the next day to find a complex pattern of blood and nerve and liver tissue forming an organ.

From Matt Thompson’s Lab:

Matt’s graduate research at Harvard University focused on understanding cell fate decisions in response to developmental signals. Currently, he is exploring cellular decisions that occur in cell populations, for example, within tissues of a developing organism or within our immune system. How do large numbers of progenitor cells within a developing organism exchange information and coordinate their state to construct a complex tissue? What are the rules that organize multi-cellular phenomena and how are these rules implemented in molecular circuits that operate in single cells? He is using a combination of approaches including mathematical models, statistical analysis of high-throughput gene expression data, and single cell RNA sequencing experiments. His current work is reconstituting a set of developmental processes in the lab using mouse embryonic stem cell differentiation and developing imaging methods for tracking and perturbing the activity of signaling pathways and transcriptional regulators in many single cells at once. Matt will use this data with computational models to classify mechanisms used by tissues to develop and repair themselves without centralized control.–Via 

21 thoughts on “UCSF Researchers Control Embryonic Stem Cells With Light

  1. It can be difficult to understand what exactly is happening in this video. However, when we refer to how neurons work, it becomes clear what processes are happening in the video. For example, how did the cells spontaneously group? Well, if we look at a neuron cell, we can see it has an axon terminal where it sends off “messengers” that other cells can receive. These “messengers” are mainly ionized atoms, such as Na+ and K+. Therefore, it will be hard to see carbon or any other elements with a moderate number of electrons in their valence shell acting as “messengers”.

    In the video, we saw tiny, dark blobs of “stuff” that seemed to be migrating from cell to cell. These might as well be a sort of primitive “messengers” that, as they entered and exited the proto-neurons, transmitted messages telling the cells to search for others and group. We must remember these processes are done unconsciously and rather randomly, so the process of grouping will be erratic and uncoordinated. Below is a link with detailed descriptions of these messengers, called neurotransmitters (since we are dealing with nerve cells). It also talks about other types of cellular messengers:


    In addition, here is a link where one can see the structure of a neuron and its description:


    It was fascinating to see these primitive cells use their extensions–dendrites, in this case–to move around in search for others. Some people may not appreciate the simple complexity of nature; how something so small can have such complex processes is something for which I hold a deep fascination. I was glad this was posted here; I am very interested in the study of these types of cells. They pose great potential in terms of organ and tissue treatment. I encourage anyone who reads this to search more on this topic–it will prove to be captivating for any lover of biology.


    • The thing that impressed me most about the research was that these cells were controlled with light, as opposed to the conventional biochemical switches. This is the type of research that shows ow scientists are, in many ways, artists and designers–thinking outside of the box, creatively, is of great benefit to both.


      • I agree. We usually hear about how a scientist manipulated a cell using a chemical or a biological marker, but seeing scientists use a fresh idea such as light brings things into a different light (pardon the redundancy). Now it is possible to manipulate life without the need of adding stuff it does not need; this can save scientists money on chemicals and ease the treatment on the specimens.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The cell is the smallest unit that can carry on all the processes of life (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston (2009).Since Robert Hooke’s (1665) initial studies of the cell with the early microscope, up to today’s scientists like Matt Thompson, use light technology. With use of lasers and 3D technology, Thompson explore the stem cells differentiation .

    Stem cells are a class of undifferentiated cells that are able to differentiate into specialised cell types. Stem cells come from: 1) embryos formed during the phase of embryological development, and 2) adult tissue. Both types are generally characterised by their potential to differentiate into different cell types. (www.medicalnewstoday.com/info/stem_cell).

    Studies of stem cells is very important because it is bringing us information about the complex events that occur during human development. A primary goal of this studies is to identify how undifferentiated stem cells become the differentiated cells that form the tissues and organs. It’s important to solve the most serious medical conditions, such as cancer and birth defects. Also, it’s used to test new drugs (medications), and the most important potential application of human stem cells is the generation of cells and tissues that could be used for cell-based therapies. (http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/Pages/Default.aspx>).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Light can be used for so many things…
    Scientists elsewhere have made a way to connect to the internet using light, called Li-Fi:
    Li-Fi is extremely fast, at times 250 times faster than wireless internet, reaching 10 Gbit/s, and is expected to be cheaper that Wi-Fi.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As their name suggest, embryonic stem cells, are derived from embryos that have developed in eggs, already fertilized. Scientists have been working and experimenting with cell differentiation trying to achieve a method in which stem cells could be “ordered” or “directed” into becoming a specific type of cell, according to the necessity. Stem cell research is one of the most fascinating areas of study in biology, but research on stem cells raises scientific questions as rapidly as new discoveries are acquired. Many arguments are obtained each day about the morality of embryonic stem cell research. The research of embryonic stem cells is frowned upon because for this inquiry to take place, an embryo, which could later develop into a human, is destroyed. On the other hand, what if that investigation leads to the potential of curing different diseases?

    (http://www.eurostemcell.org/factsheet/embyronic-stem-cell-research-ethical-dilemma) –This link provides the point of view of people against the study of embryonic cells or in favor of it.


    • These technologies are at the cutting edge of science and engineering—knowledge and its application. Our lives will change dramatically because of these technological leaps. It happened during the XX century. The same ethical values still apply; which were very well stated in your article, Ana:

      “Embryonic stem cell research poses a moral dilemma. It forces us to choose between two moral principles:

      The duty to prevent or alleviate suffering
      The duty to respect the value of human life”


  5. By studying this experiment, scientists can see the wonder of the stem cells. Seeing that the stem cells somehow turn into these neurons, imagine what else we can do with stem cells! I was very intrigued with the video of the stem cells and how they turned into neurons. Conducting more research, we could find a way to repair the neurons that are damaged in diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and many others. Investigators in the University of Oregon have discovered that stem cells could possibly block tumor formation. So many possibilities come with stem cells, the only problem is the way we obtain the cells and how it challenges the morals of most human beings. Maybe getting the stem cells from abortion clinics could help the controversy surrounding the use of stem cells in science and could allow us a better way of obtaining stem cells. This is a problem that has no resolution, since human life is very valuable, but I hope that someday, we can find a way of getting stem cells without having to hurt a life, even the mouse life that was used to get the stem cells to turn into the neurons.


  6. I believe this research can lead to very resourceful discoveries but many people see this as barbaric since embryonic stem cells are derived from eggs. These cells are then donated for proposes of research with informed consent t of the donors. The Pros and Cons Cell Research is a very debated issue among scientific research , moral activists groups as well as activists. However like new sciences it has benefits as well as harms to the future generation’s wellbeing and health. I consider one of the biggest pros is the possibility to be able to cure diseases such as multiple sclerosis , diabetes, Parkinson’s, and help with traumatic spinal injury and muscular dystrophy. Also their will not be the need for organ transplant because the stem cell while allow the regrowth of the organ. On the other hand , most people will not approve of the use of public money to destroy embryos in any type of medical research. Also embryonic stem cells can cause tumors due to rapid growth when injected.

    What do you think referring to the pros and cons of this research?


    • Stem Cell research has the potential of greatly improving the quality of life of millions of people all around the world. But, how will these advancements be used? Will poor people have access to these technologies? Are we sure that eugenics (I suggest you Google this concept) will be avoided with Stem Cell Research? These questions, all of them related to ethical considerations, have to be accounted for. In other words, I think we should be cautiously optimistic. We do not want to live in the world that this guy wanted.


  7. Scientists first studied the potential of stem cells in mouse embryos over two decades ago. Over years of research they discovered the properties of these stem cells in 1998. They found methods to isolate stem cells from human embryos and grow the cells in the laboratory.

    Early studies utilized embryos created for infertility purposes through in vitro fertilization procedures and when they were no longer needed for that purpose. The use required voluntary donation of the embryos by the owners. I found this information in http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Stem-Cells.aspx

    Stem may soon become the basis for treating diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart failure, cerebral palsy, heart disease and host of other chronic ailments. Thanks to these we can use them to understand birth defects without having human volunteers to take in toxins and drugs.


  8. When I was younger I had to do a project on a topic of my choosing and I decided on human cloning. When I was doing my research Inread a lot about stem cells and the importance and influence it is having with future science to help develop cures for many diseases, how they mention stem cells is the basis of future since. I know a doctor called Jose Huertas, he is the president of Bancovida, a bank of stem cells, the first ever to be developed in Puerto Rico. Here is a link in which it shows some information of what the organization is about, and the advancements with stem cells:
    http://www.bancovida.com/ Stem cells have a remarkable ability to differentiate into specialized cell types, not to mention that women get to choose whether or not to keep their cord blood stem cells when they are having a child and use it in the future. If a disease or something came to happen to her or her child, maybe the stem cells can help save her and many other women’s or people’s lives.


  9. I think this is an amazing discovery and advance in science. Imagine the possibilities! We might be able to reconstruct organs and people won’t even need a transplant cause they could get their own fixed! I think this will be one of those things to change science as we see it. Might not happen right now but eventually they will use this for more complex things.


  10. Although stem cell research is a controversial topic, it is also very beneficial because it may help treat many medical problems including, diabetes, sickle cell disease, different types of cancer, spinal cord injury, heat diseases, Huntington’s Disease, and many others. It may also help reduce risk of transplantation and help replace damaged organs.



  11. I find it impressive that instead of using biochemical switches, the cells used light. Chemical modification of these cells leads to controlled cell alignment and adaptation of neural morphology. A 3D substrate can be used to guide cell-to-cell interaction and further aid in controlling neural stem cell differentiation for guided nerve regeneration. I consider this to be the foundation for further research on growing new organs from stem cells.
    Here is a link that offers a more in depth explanation about the control of stem cells:


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