It frequently happens in science that what you throw away turns out to be most valuable. It happened to Deepak Nagrath, but not for long.
The Rice assistant professor in chemical and biomolecular engineering was looking for ways to grow cells in a scaffold, and he discarded the sticky substance secreted by the cells.
"I thought it was contamination, so I threw the plates away," said Nagrath, then a research associate at Harvard Medical School.
That substance, derived from adipose cells -- aka body fat -- turned out to be a natural extracellular matrix, the very thing he was looking for.
Nagrath, who joined Rice in 2009, and his co-authors have since built a biological scaffold that allows cells to grow and mature. He hopes the new material, when suffused with stem cells, will someday be injected into the human body, where it can repair tissues of many types without fear of rejection.
The research by Nagrath and his co-authors appeared last week in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal.
The basic idea is simple: Prompt fat cells to secrete what bioengineers call "basement membrane." This membrane mimics the architecture tissues naturally use in cell growth, literally a framework to which cells attach while they form a network. When the cells have matured into the desired tissue, they secrete another substance that breaks down and destroys the scaffold.
Structures that support the growth of living cells into tissues are highly valuable to pharmaceutical companies for testing drugs in vitro. Companies commonly use Matrigel, a protein mixture secreted by mouse cancer cells, but for that reason it can't be injected into patients.
"Fat is one thing that is in excess in the body. We can always lose it," Nagrath said. The substance derived from the secretions, called Adipogel, has proven effective for growing hepatocytes, the primary liver cells
|Contact: David Ruth|