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Molecular 'marker' on stem cells aids research, perhaps therapies

A sugar molecule present on embryonic stem cells also has been found on the surface of a type of adult stem cell, a discovery that may help researchers isolate and purify adult stem cells for use in therapies aimed at bone healing, tendon repair and cartilage regeneration, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center report.

The molecule, called SSEA-4, was found on the surface of certain stem cells in bone marrow that give rise to fat, cartilage and bone. These so-called mesenchymal cells are a tiny component of bone marrow; the vast majority of bone marrow is made up of hematopoietic stem cells, which give rise to blood and immune cells.

Dr. Rita Perlingeiro, assistant professor in the Center for Developmental Biology and of molecular biology, said detecting SSEA-4 will aid in singling out the mesenchymal stem cells, or MSCs, for more detailed scientific study as well as for possible medical applications. The cells have shown promise in early clinical studies elsewhere, where scientists tested their use to repair bone defects and to attenuate the effects of bone loss in diseases such as osteoporosis.

The study is available online and will be published in the Feb. 15 issue of the journal Blood.

Although mesenchymal cells were discovered in the 1970s, researchers still use decades-old methods to isolate them from bone marrow, said Dr. Perlingeiro, who led the research.

Exploiting the sugar molecule as a biological marker will boost researchers?ability to obtain a purer, more homogeneous population of MSCs. That’s an important consideration, for example, in applications such as tissue engineering, where only bone-generating cells are needed. Such cells are being tested by a number of researchers for their ability to grow fat, cartilage and bone on special biomaterial-based scaffolding, with the goal of producing soft tissue for reconstruction or augmentation, or to shore up bones left fragile by age or disease.


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Source:UT Southwestern Medical Center


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