The promise of novel integrative approaches for intestinal stem cell research

One of the biggest mysteries in biomedical sciences is understanding how stem cells transform into the dazzling array of specialized cells that make us what we are. Recent discoveries have started to clarify the nature of stem cells, but many questions remain. In a new critical review article featured as a cover story in the March 2014 issue of “Integrative Biology”, University of Michigan scientists discuss both historical and current views of intestinal stem cells, drawing insights into the main questions and controversies in the field.

“In our work we pay special attention to recent efforts made in integrating computational models and in vivo experimentation to investigate stem cell dynamics, differentiation and growth to build the intestinal crypt,” says Alexis Carulli, a graduate student in the Molecular & Integrative Physiology Program.

“We illustrate how this novel integration between theoretical models and laboratory experiments is making important advances in intestinal development and diseases,” says one of the lead authors, Santiago Schnell, Ph.D., associate professor of Molecular & Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School. The U-M research team presents key questions in the field that can be addressed using this integrative approach.

Adult stem cells are crucial for maintaining proper function and repair of gastrointestinal tissues. Because the intestine is one of the most rapidly regenerated tissues in the body, intestinal stem cell research is essential to provide insight into intestinal pathologies.

“Understanding the repair response of stem cells is important for managing radiation therapies and environmental exposures as well as developing treatments for intestinal disease resulting from lost or damaged tissue” says the other lead author of the work, Linda Samuelson, Ph.D., professor of Molecular & Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School.