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Researchers characterize stem cell function
Date:3/11/2010

The promise of stem cells lies in their unique ability to differentiate into a multitude of different types of cells. But in order to determine how to use stem cells for new therapeutics, scientists and engineers need to answer a fundamental question: if a stem cell changes to look like a certain type of cell, how do we know if it will behave like a certain type of cell?

Researchers at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering are the first to fully characterize a special type of stem cell, endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) that exist in circulating blood, to see if they can behave as endothelial cells in the body when cultured on a bioengineered surface.

The results, published online in the journal Stem Cells show promise for a new generation of tissue-engineered vascular grafts which could improve the success rate of surgery for peripheral arterial disease. Peripheral arterial disease is estimated to affect one in every 20 Americans over the age of 50, a total of 8 to 12 million people.

"Normally, stem cells are not studied in the context of improving vascular grafts for bypass surgery. Therefore, we had to develop new tests to assess their use in this application," says Guillermo Ameer, senior author of the paper and associate professor of biomedical engineering and surgery. "We looked at the function of the cells on a citric acid-based polymer, which will be the basis for a new generation of bioengineered vascular grafts."

In the study, Josephine Allen, then a graduate student in Ameer's lab, and colleagues isolated endothelial progenitor cells from eight tablespoons of blood. In approximately half of the attempts, the team was able to isolate the EPCs to expand to make millions of endothelial cells that can behave like the cells of a blood vessel.

Once the endothelial-like cell colonies were established, the research team performed a battery of tests to examine the properties and funct
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Contact: Kyle Delaney
k-delaney@northwestern.edu
847-467-4010
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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