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Venomous snakes kill or permanently injure more than a half-million people every year. Yet researchers still know surprisingly little about the biology behind venom, complicating efforts to develop treatments. A new advance could help: Researchers have successfully grown miniature organs from snake stem cells in the lab that function just like snake venom glands; they even produce real venom.
“It’s a breakthrough,” says José María Gutiérrez, a snake venom toxicologist at the University of Costa Rica, San José, who was not involved in the study. “This work opens the possibilities for studying the cellular biology of venom-secreting cells at a very fine level, which has not been possible in the past.” The advance could also help researchers study the venom of rare snakes that are difficult to keep in captivity, he says, paving the way for new treatments for a variety of venoms.
Researchers - Miniorgans—or - Adult - Stem - Cells
Researchers have been creating miniorgans—or organoids—from adult human and mouse stem cells for years. These so-called pluripotent cells are able to divide and grow into new types of tissues throughout the body; scientists have coaxed them into tiny livers, guts, and even rudimentary brains. But scientists hadn’t tried the technique with reptile cells before.
“Nobody knew anything about stem cells in snakes,” says Hans Clevers, a molecular biologist at the Hubrecht Institute and one of the world’s leading organoid scientists. “We didn’t know if it was possible at all.” To find out, Clevers and colleagues removed stem cells from the venom glands of nine snake species—including the cape coral cobra and the western diamondback rattlesnake—and placed them in a cocktail of hormones and proteins called growth factors.
Team - Surprise - Stem - Cells - Growth
To the team’s surprise, the snake stem cells responded to the same growth factors that work on human and mouse cells. This suggests certain aspects of these stem cells originated hundreds of millions of...
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