STANFORD, Calif. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a technique they believe will help scientists overcome a major hurdle to the use of adult stem cells for treating muscular dystrophy and other muscle-wasting disorders that accompany aging or disease: They've found that growing muscle stem cells on a specially developed synthetic matrix that mimics the elasticity of real muscle allows them to maintain their self-renewing properties.
"Cells don't normally exist in contact with a rigid cell culture dish," said Helen Blau, PhD, the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Professor and member of Stanford's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. "They sit on soft tissue. By mimicking this environment we can really influence their function and allow them to self-renew in ways we've never been able to achieve before."
Adult stem cells already exist in the body, and are important in regenerating tissues like blood, muscles and neurons in the brain. But scientists have struggled to produce them in quantities needed for therapies because the cells differentiate and lose their "stemness" as soon as they're placed in a tissue culture dish. This new method of growing the cells creates a way to study the behavior of many types of adult stem cells in culture and may revolutionize the ability to produce these cells for future therapies, say the researchers.
Blau is the senior author of the research, which will be published online July 15 in Science Express. Postdoctoral scholar Penney Gilbert, PhD, and graduate student Karen Havenstrite share first authorship of the work.
Self-renewal, or the ability to become both another stem cell and a differentiating daughter cell, is a defining trait of stem cells. This ability is necessary for a small number of cells to, for example, fully reconstitute the pantheon of blood cell types necessary to regenerate a patient's immune system after chemot
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Stanford University Medical Center