(RxWiki News) Congenital defects and certain cancers are caused by malfunctioning stem cells, even before birth.
But Tufts University researchers have identified a signal by which organisms can control the behavior of stem-cell offspring.
During the study, regulation of the voltage difference between the inside and outside of cells (bioelectrical signaling, a process of vital importance) was achieved.
Demonstrating on frog tadpoles and melanocytes (pigment cells of the skin), researchers tweaked the transmembrane potential of a tiny population of so-called instructor cells, sending a signal to developing melanocytes and causing them to over-multiply and resemble metastatic cancer cells. They found this kind of tampering had a domino effect in a whole organism, changing the destiny of other cell types.
They also found that the signal can travel over long distances in the tadpole, thanks to its transporter, serotonin, a vital neurotransmitter involved in mood stabilization and several other aspects of nervous-system function.
This bioelectrical method holds many implications since it's likely there are other similar instructor cells that can direct other cell populations. Changing their voltage through bioelectrical therapy could be organized to improve regenerative repair after injuries, correct birth defects and possibly even detect and prevent cancer.