A series of achievements have stoked excitement about the potential of regenerative medicine, which aims to tackle diseases by replacing or regenerating damaged cells, tissues and organs. A paper in Nature today reports another step towards this goal: the generation of working thyroid cells from stem cells.
Sabine Costagliola, a molecular embryologist at the Free University of Brussels, and her team study the development of the thyroid gland, which regulates how the body uses energy and affects sensitivity to other hormones. Their research shows that thyroid function can be re-established even after the gland has been destroyed — at least in mice. If the same technique could be applied to humans, it would help the roughly 1 in 3,000 babies born with deficient thyroid activity, or hypothyroidism, which can result in stunted physical and mental development.
The thyroid is the latest in a growing list of body parts that can now be ‘fixed’ in mice, with the potential to treat diseases from diabetes to Parkinson’s (see ‘We can rebuild him‘). “Progress has been very rapid over the past decade,” says Charles ffrench-Constant, director of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “In recent years we’ve seen a number of very important studies in which mouse stem cells have been converted to a desired cell type that has then been shown to be functional in vivo, and to confer benefits in mouse models of human diseases.”