Researchers Create Thyroid Cells From Human Stem Cells

Extract from full article yet to be peer reviewed. Link to full article at the end.

"This is a model system that has a lot of potential in a number of different ways," Davies said. "First, it can teach us about the differentiation of the thyroid gland and how the thyroid gland develops. Second, it can be used for screening of drugs to look for effects on human thyroid cells."

Davies said his group currently has a program for developing molecules for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, with two lead candidates published this month in Thyroid. Some of these uses include helping radioiodine to get into metastases, as well as replacing recombinant TSH when assessing patients with thyroid cancer.

"These molecules can also be used to aid the differentiation of thyroid cells, so these two programs come together," Davies said.

Ultimately, the goal is to build a working thyroid that can replace a diseased one. Although this is still many years away, he acknowledged, it does promise the opportunity to personalize treatment.

"You can take stem cells from each individual, differentiate them into thyroid cells, and replace a damaged or removed thyroid gland," he said.

Bryan Haugen, MD, of the University of Colorado in Denver, who was not involved in the study, expressed some cautions about forcing cells to overexpress genes.

"When you manipulate a gene and overexpress it, now it's no longer recapitulating normal biology," Haugen said. "You've forced something that could make it aggressive or possibly turn it into a cancer, versus doing something try to follow the natural progression and activate it more naturally."

"This is a bit of an artificial system," he added, "but the good thing is that the way it's set up, it looks very promising for making normal thyroid follicular cells."

Haugen also added that the work can help researchers better understand thyroid biology and pathophysiology. "It's a new, very useful tool for our field. We can have a model of thyroid development to see where things can go right and where they can go wrong."

Davies said his next steps include turning the working thyroid follicles into an actual gland. "We're using structural supports to try and develop a larger in vitro thyroid gland, then get them transplanted into mice."

He and his team are also further developing their small molecule program, to find candidates that can activate thyroid cell differentiation and be used for other applications.

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10 Replies

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  • Whilst that is very interesting, and there is much potential, I seriously question the aim of replacing a thyroid until we know an awful lot more about the most common cause of thyroid destruction - autoimmune disease.

  • That was my first thought, Rod. Still, something for the 10% without autoimmune disease, perhaps and the potential to individualise drug therapy will be useful.

  • As I think I am in that 10% (negative for antibodies), maybe I should have been more positive! :-)

    My cynicism overflows - individualised drug therapy when we can't even get prescribed and supplied properly now!

    But I do appreciate that the more that is known, the better the intricacies and complexities might be appreciated.

    I have long wondered about the seemingly simpler approach of an implantable dosing device. It would avoid thyroid-hormone-in-the-gut we get with oral dosing. It could give micro-doses in any required pattern. If sophisticated enough it could adjust the dosing based on various measurements.

  • I'm obviously more optimistic than you. My cup is half full although it never runneth over :) Individualised treatment does seem fanciful given the current climate and drug availability but...one day, maybe.

    Not sure I fancy an implant under the skin, I'm sure I'd fiddle with it and move it around but I don't have absorption issues to contend with.

  • Nor, so far as I know, do I. But I do wonder what effect thyroid hormones have on the gut and the things that live there. And whether the extremely lumpy delivery of hormones to the blood stream, and the knock on effects of that are significant (but ignored) issues.

    Yes - know what you mean about an implant. In some ways I want to see it done even as a very crude, manually controlled, external device. As with the stem cell route, it might answer some questions.

  • My friend has an implant to which she attaches a tube and bottle to delver her chemo. Manual and crude.

  • Lumpy delivery..... Is a great description. Its how I felt on synthetic t3 and t4. But I don't get the highs and lows with NDT.

  • This sounds very promising. :-) but I suppose its 20 years away :-(

  • As long as a person has Hashimotos or Graves, which is an Autoimmune Disease, adding a fresh Thyroid would make things worse. It would be like throwing gasoline on a fire and the Antibodies will destroy the new thyroid tissue anyway. Would be great for someone without Autoimmune Thyroid, potentially.

  • Faith, yes, a transplant's not much good for anyone with autoimmune thyroid disease. Having said that, Hashimoto's does go dormant and sometimes antibodies disappear so it might work for a few unless the transplant reactivates it.

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