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Giving transplanted cells a nanotech checkup
Date:2/5/2013

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have devised a way to detect whether cells previously transplanted into a living animal are alive or dead, an innovation they say is likely to speed the development of cell replacement therapies for conditions such as liver failure and type 1 diabetes. As reported in the March issue of Nature Materials, the study used nanoscale pH sensors and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to tell if liver cells injected into mice survived over time.

"This technology has the potential to turn the human body into less of a black box and tell us if transplanted cells are still alive," says Mike McMahon, Ph.D., an associate professor of radiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who oversaw the study. "That information will be invaluable in fine-tuning therapies."

Regenerative medicine advances depend on reliable means of replacing damaged or missing cells, such as injecting pancreatic cells in people with diabetes whose own cells don't make enough insulin. To protect the transplanted cells from the immune system, while allowing the free flow of nutrients and insulin between the cells and the body, they can be encased in squishy hydrogel membranes before transplantation. But, explains McMahon, "once you put the cells in, you really have no idea how long they survive." Such transplanted cells eventually stop working in most patients, who must resume taking insulin. At that point, physicians can only assume that cells have died, but they don't know when or why, says McMahon.

With that problem in mind, McMahon's group, which specializes in methods of detecting chemical changes, collaborated with the research group headed by Jeff Bulte, Ph.D., the director of cellular imaging at Hopkins' Institute for Cell Engineering. Bulte's group devises ways of tracking implanted cells through the body using MRI. Led by research fellow Kannie Chan, Ph.D., the team devised an extremely tiny, or nanoscale
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Contact: Shawna Williams
shawna@jhmi.edu
410-955-8236
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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