Tuesday, 26 February 2013

New scaffold for embryonic stem cell differentiation

Scientists from the University of Manchester (UM) announced today the development of a new web-like biomaterial, coated with long sugar molecules. The new biomaterial can be used to selectively differentiate embryonic stem cells into specific types of somatic cells (e.g. neurons). The researchers believe that the scaffold is a major step in stem cell research, characterising it as "the Holy Grail".

The biomaterial is created via a process known as electrospinning which uses an electrical charge to draw very tiny fibres from a liquid. The biomaterial in question, features a mesh of fibres that are very similar to the ones occurring naturally in the human body.

Image of a human embryonic stem cell colony
Human embryonic stem cell colony

According to Catherine Merry, the study's chief author, the scaffold has long, linear sugar molecules, which in previous studies have shown to play a crucial role in regulating the differentiation process of embryonic stem cells (ESCs). The scientists say that the combination of sugar molecules with the fibre web, provides both biochemical and structural signals which guide ESCs into becoming specific types of somatic cells. Merry says that this is "the Holy Grail of research into developing new therapeutics using stem cell technology.

The researchers believe that the scaffold has applications in many different fields including:
  • ESC research in general
  • Tissue engineering for developing bone, liver and blood cells from ESCs
  • In the treatment of a various diseases like multiple Osteochondroma (MO), Alzheimer and Diabetes

Tony Day, co-author, says:

"This cross-faculty collaboration provides exciting new possibilities for how we might harness the adhesive interactions of extracellular matrix to manipulate stem cell behaviour and realise their full therapeutic potential."

Meade, K., White, K., Pickford, C., Holley, R., Marson, A., Tillotson, D., van Kuppevelt, T., Whittle, J., Day, A., & Merry, C. (2012). Immobilization of Heparan Sulfate on Electrospun Meshes to Support Embryonic Stem Cell Culture and Differentiation Journal of Biological Chemistry, 288 (8), 5530-5538 DOI: 10.1074/jbc.M112.423012

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