Monday, 24 February 2014

New biological scaffold for growing stem cells

Feng Zhao
Our cells don't live in a vacuum. They are surrounded by a complex, nurturing matrix that is essential for many biological functions, like growth and healing.

In all multicellular organisms, including humans, cells make their own extracellular matrix. But in the lab, scientists attempting to grow tissue must provide a scaffold for cells to latch onto as they grow and proliferate. This engineered tissue has potential to repair or replace virtually any part of our bodies.

Usually, researchers develop scaffolds using synthetic materials or natural animal or human substances. All have their strengths and weaknesses, but no scaffold grown in a Petri dish has ever managed to mimic the highly organized structure of the matrix made by living things, at least not until now.

In a new study, Feng Zhao of Michigan Technological University has persuaded fibroblasts, cells that makes the extracellular matrix, to make just such a well-organized scaffold. Its fibers are a mere 80 nanometers across, similar to fibers in a natural matrix. And, since her scaffold is made by cells, it is composed of the same intricate mix of all-natural proteins and sugars found in the body. Plus, its nanofibers are as highly aligned as freshly combed hair.

Scaffold for stem cells
Highly aligned nanofibers created by fibroblasts form a biological scaffold which could prove an ideal foundation for engineered tissues. Human mesenchymal stem cells placed on the scaffold thrived, and it had the added advantage of provoking a very low immune response.

The trick was to orient the cells on a nano-grate that guided their growth—and the creation of the scaffold.

"The cells did the work. The material they made is quite uniform, and of course it is completely biological." said Zhao.

Stem cells placed on her scaffold thrived, and it had the added advantage of provoking a very low immune response.

"We think this has great potential. I think we could use this to engineer softer tissues, like skin, blood vessels and muscle." she said.

The research  was funded by the National Institutes of Health , the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute and Michigan Technological University.

- Qi Xing, Caleb Vogt, Kam W. Leong, Feng Zhao (2014). Highly Aligned Nanofibrous Scaffold Derived from Decellularized Human Fibroblasts Advanced Functional Materials DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201303460

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