Researchers from North Carolina State University and Duke University have developed nanoscale "patches" that can be used to sensitize targeted cell receptors, making them more responsive to signals that control cell activity. The finding holds promise for promoting healing and facilitating tissue engineering research.
The research takes advantage of the fact that cells in a living organism can communicate via physical contact. Specifically, when targeted receptors on the surface of a cell are triggered, the cell receives instructions to alter its behavior in some way. For example, the instructions may cause a stem cell to differentiate into a bone cell or a cartilage cell.
These receptors respond to specific ligands, or target molecules. And those ligands have to be present in certain concentrations in order to trigger the receptors. If there aren't enough target ligands, the receptors won't respond.
Now researchers have developed nanoscale patches that are embedded with tiny protein fragments called peptides. These peptides bond to a specific cell receptor, making it more sensitive to its target ligand meaning that it takes fewer ligand molecules to trigger the receptor and its resulting behavior modification.
"This study shows that our concept can work, and there are a host of potential applications," says Dr. Thom LaBean, an associate professor of materials science at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work. "For example, if we identify the relevant peptides, we could create patches that sensitize cells to promote cartilage growth on one side of the patch and bone growth on the other side. This could be used to expedite healing or to enable tissue engineering of biomedical implants."
"What's important about this is that it allows us to be extremely precise in controlling cell behavior and gene expression," says Ronnie Pedersen, a Ph.D. student at Duke University and lead author of the paper. "By
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North Carolina State University