Human ES (embryonic stem) cells and iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells have been heralded as a source of differentiated cells that could be used in the treatment of degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease or diabetes. Despite the great potential for their use in regenerative therapy, the challenge remains to understand the basic biology of these remarkable cells, in order to differentiate them into any functional cell type. Given the scale of the task, high-throughput screening of agents and culture conditions offers one way to accelerate these studies. The screening of small-compound libraries is particularly amenable to such high-throughput methods. Coupled with high-content screening technology that enables simultaneous assessment of multiple cellular features in an automated and quantitative way, this approach is proving powerful in identifying both small molecules as tools for manipulating stem cell fates and novel mechanisms of differentiation not previously associated with stem cell biology. Such screens performed on human ES cells also demonstrate the usefulness of human ES/iPS cells as cellular models for pharmacological testing of drug efficacy and toxicity, possibly a more imminent use of these cells than in regenerative medicine.

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