Gene essential to stem cell health discovered

Potential application in treating age-related disease

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Jul 28, 2010

Dr. Richard Allsopp, in a JABSOM laboratory in Kaka‘ako
Dr. Richard Allsopp, in a JABSOM laboratory in Kaka‘ako
Researchers at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) have discovered a gene that is essential to keeping stem cells healthy.  
The gene, hypoxia inducible factor 1, helps keep levels of telomerase constant. Telomerase is an enzyme that is critical to a stem cell’s lifespan, helping to prevent or slow deterioration in the cells. When telomerase is reduced in a stem cell, the stem cell ages faster.
To demonstrate the gene’s role in regulating levels of telomerase, Dr. Richard Allsopp and his colleagues at JABSOM and Sierra Sciences, Nevada, reduced the amount of hypoxia inducible factor 1 to less than half of what is normally found in embryonic stem cells of mice. In the absence of the normal level of the gene, the scientists observed a corresponding reduction in telomerase and an increased rate of aging of stem cells.
“These findings have important implications for the development of potential therapies to treat both age-related diseases associated with exhaustion of stem cells, as well as various types of cancer that are dependent on cancer stem cells to grow,” said Dr. Allsopp, an assistant professor and Graduate Program co-chair at JABSOM’s Institute for Biogenesis Research.
Dr. Allsopp’s results are published in July’s online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).
Funding from The Tilker Medical Research Foundation in Honolulu and San Francisco helped support Dr. Allsopp’s research. The Foundation is dedicated to finding solutions to a wide range of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as spinal cord injuries and autoimmune diseases.
To access an abstract of Dr. Allsopp’s PNAS findings, see