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Revolutionizing Stem Cell Research with AI and Imaging

Unlock the secrets of stem cell behavior with groundbreaking research from USC. Utilizing machine learning and innovative imaging, this study offers unprecedented, non-invasive insights that could revolutionize regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies.

Revolutionizing Stem Cell Research with Machine Learning and Imaging

New research from the University of Southern California’s Alfred E. Mann Department of Biomedical Engineering has unveiled a groundbreaking non-invasive system to study stem cell behavior. Led by Associate Professor Keyue Shen, the team has harnessed the power of machine learning and imaging to provide unprecedented insights into how stem cells proliferate and regenerate into specialized cells.

This innovative approach has the potential to significantly advance drug discovery, stem cell treatments, and regenerative medicine.

At a Glance

  • Research Focus: Understanding stem cell proliferation and differentiation

  • Lead Researcher: Associate Professor Keyue Shen

  • Institution: University of Southern California

  • Published In: Science Advances

  • Key Technology: Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM)

  • Applications: Stem cell treatments, drug discovery, regenerative medicine

The Holy Grail of Medicine

Stem cells serve as the body’s emergency toolkit, capable of transforming into various specialized cells, such as immune cells and brain cells. They possess the unique ability to divide and regenerate indefinitely, playing a crucial role in repairing and replenishing tissues and organs.

The ability to culture stem cells in the lab and direct them to become any cell type needed is considered the Holy Grail of medicine. Achieving this could enable clinicians to maintain an endless supply of new cells for repairing damaged tissues and organs.

A Non-Invasive Approach

Shen’s research primarily focuses on hematopoietic stem cells, which reside in bone marrow and give rise to all blood cells, including red blood cells and immune cells. Using fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM), the team tracks the metabolism of these stem cells in real-time. This method leverages the natural autofluorescence of cellular molecules like NADH to measure metabolic activity without destroying the cells.

It's very exciting because we are not killing the cells. We are merely just taking images of the cell and then extracting those features. That can give us so much information about them
Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Keyue Shen towards MedicalXPress.

Machine Learning Insights

By employing a machine learning approach, the researchers developed a library of 205 metabolic optical biomarker features, 56 of which are associated with hematopoietic stem cell differentiation. This allows them to create a clustering map to distinguish between stem cells and non-stem cells, as well as track their behavior and differentiation over time.

The system assigns a score to predict whether a daughter cell will retain stem cell properties or differentiate into a specific cell type.

Real-Time Understanding of Stem Cell Metabolism

The team's real-time imaging approach provides foundational knowledge that could revolutionize cell therapy and regenerative medicine. For instance, in bone marrow transplants, achieving symmetric division of stem cells could generate a large stock of cells for multiple patients. Currently, blood stem cells cannot be expanded outside the body in clinical settings, but this research brings us closer to solving this challenge.

Broader Applications

Shen’s pioneering work opens new avenues for various medical applications, including stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine. It allows scientists to monitor the state of stem cells in real-time and track their transitions over time, which was previously not possible. This breakthrough could lead to significant advancements in creating specialized cells for treating a wide range of diseases.


The integration of machine learning and imaging in stem cell research is a significant leap forward. Shen’s innovative approach provides a detailed, non-invasive method to study stem cell behavior, offering new possibilities for medical treatments and stem cell therapies.

This research not only enhances our understanding of stem cell metabolism but also paves the way for future advancements in regenerative medicine.