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A method for controlling gene activation

university of helsinki

Researchers from the University of Helsinki have developed a method that enables the activation of genes in a cell without changing the genome. The method can be used in directing the differentiation of stem cells and as processes in cancer biology.

The method has been developed by researchers Diego Balboa and Jere Weltner, working on their doctoral dissertations at Professor Timo Otonkoski’s laboratory, and it can be used in stem cell research.

“We can produce undifferentiated stem cells from specialized cells, also known as iPS, or induced pluripotent stem cells, and we can regulate the differentiation of these cells by providing them with the right kinds of growth environments,” explains Professor Otonkoski. “However, we cannot control the differentiation process sufficiently. The process may go smoothly, but then at the very end, a single gene won’t activate at the necessary time, and the cell remains immature.”


The system of clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR, means genes can be edited by cutting the DNA at certain points. The method can be used to remove a faulty gene from a cell or to introduce a transplanted gene that will express in the desired way. The new method enables the regulation of a single gene’s behavior without changing the genome itself. The method employs CRISPR technology, but the regulation itself is controlled by the addition of chemicals.

The research was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.