One type of cell that needs other cells to make it work properly is the stem cell, Bertozzi noted. Theoretically, using Gartner and Bertozzi's chemical technique, it should be possible to assemble stem cells with their helper cells into a functioning tissue that would make stem cells easier to study outside the body.
"In principal, we might be able to build a stem cell niche from scratch using our techniques, and then study those very well defined structures in controlled environments," Bertozzi said.
Bertozzi noted that most of the body's organs are a collection of many cell types that need to be in actual physical contact to operate properly. The pancreas, for example, is a collection of specialized cells, including insulin-secreting beta cells, that "sense glucose from the environment and respond by producing insulin. A complex feedback regulatory loop goes into all of this, and you need more than one cell type to achieve such regulation."
"If you really want to understand the way these cells behave in an organism, especially a human, you would like to recapitulate that environment as closely as possible in vitro," Gartner said. "We are trying to do that, with the aim that the rules we learn may help us control them better."
Gartner and Bertozzi assembled three types of cultured cells into onion-like layers by using two established technologies: DNA hybridization and Staudinger chemistry. DNA hybridization is like a "programmable glue," she said, that can stick cells together because of the highly precise nature of binding between complementary DNA strands: One strand of the DNA helix binds only to its complementary strand and nothing else. By putting a short DNA strand on the surface of one cell and its complementary strand on another cell, the researchers assure that the two lock together exclusively.
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|Contact: Robert Sanders|
University of California - Berkeley