I was reading Nature the other day and came across a neat article from Yukikio Yamashita’s group at the University of Michigan entitled Nanotubes mediate niche–stem-cell signalling in the Drosophila testis. It may not sound interesting to our average reader, but the cool thing – and presumably what the Nature editors and reviewers enjoyed – is that it is the first study to really dissect the mechanism of how stem cells specifically communicate with their niche.
The stem cell niche is the all-encompassing term that researchers apply to the physical cellular environment that a stem cell lives in. It provides the necessary external signals to retain stem cell identity, and cells that find themselves outside of this environment rapidly lose their ability to make more stem cells. If researchers could figure out how to create this niche artificially, then they could direct the fate of stem cells to make more stem cells in order to have an unlimited pool from which to create cells for transplantation, blood transfusions, and multiple regenerative medicine procedures – a cellular gold mine.