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NICHD to Fund Studies of Genetic/Epigenetic Changes in Stem Cells

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health plans to fund research that seeks to uncover the mechanisms involved in the progression and differentiation of stem cells so that new induced pluripotent stem cells can be developed that are closely related to embryonic stem cells at the genetic and epigenetic levels.

Under a new funding program, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development will support in vivo studies of stem cells in animal models and humans to understand how stem cells function in developing and damaged tissues.

NICHD has posted two RFAs that will provide awards of up to $500,000 per year over five years or as much as $275,000 over two years to fund the studies.

These projects will aim to profile and catalog changes that take place in stem cells at the genetic and epigenetic levels, and in their microenvironment. The central goal of the efforts will be to gather more knowledge about how embryonic stem cells progress and differentiate into embryonic lineages, progenitor cells and specialized cell types, adult stem cells/progenitor cells during tissue regeneration and wound healing, and induced pluripotent stem cells at the site of injury during stem cell therapy.

NICHD expects that having the ability to replicate such developmental mechanisms would ameliorate safety issues related to stem cell therapies, including incomplete differentiation and the improper integration of cells into damaged or diseased tissues.

These in vivo studies will examine genetic and epigenetic changes that occur during the transition of ESCs into common progenitor cells and specific tissue stem cells within the embryo; gene regulatory networks of ESCs, progenitor cells, and tissue stem cells; the migration and homing of tissue-specific stem cells to target regions during embryogenesis; maintenance of stem cell populations; interactions between stem cells and their neighboring tissues; and how the stem cells function in damaged and diseased tissues.

The NICHD funding also will support studies focused on reprogramming factors present in egg cytoplasm and somatic cells; the derivation of specialized somatic cell types in vitro and germline stem cells from ESCs and iPSCs; interactions between stem cells and host tissues; strategies to promote functional integration and differentiation; preventing abnormal differentiation, such as overgrowth or tumor formation; and the migration of stem cells across capillary walls or the blood-brain barrier.

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