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The Canadian scientists were like salmon swimming up the proverbial gene pool looking for the key to unlock a stem cell’s state. They believe that they have discovered it in a gene with a name that looks a lot like a calendar date—Oct4.

What is still emerging from this research is how stem cells format DNA and yet keep it flexible enough to regulate cell characteristics by restricting how molecules move within the nucleus.

The researchers contribute much of their success to the way they approached the problem. Traditional thinking was to compare stem cells by types. Instead they looked for the gossamer thread that united the variety of stem cell types to the master stem cell regulator gene Oct4.

It is hoped that this discovery will help develop therapies that will target, then repair, damaged adult stem cells in diseases like cancer.