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Stem Cells Modified to Home in Where They're Needed

Routing cue works like a Zip code helps deliver mail, researchers say

MONDAY, Jan. 14 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers have found a way to modify the surface of stem cells to direct them to where they're needed, an advance that may prove useful in many areas of stem cell therapy.

Researchers at the Biomedical Research Institute at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston modified the surface of human mesenchymal stem cells -- a type of adult stem cell that's a precursor of bone-forming osteoblast cells. This modification directed the stem cells through the bloodstream into bone, where they matured into new bone cells.

"Without genetically reprogramming a stem cell, which could cause adverse effects, we were able to navigate the cell to a predetermined location -- a necessary first step toward achieving tissue regeneration," study lead author Dr. Robert Sackstein, a bone marrow transplant physician, said in a prepared statement.

"Stem cells must have a routing cue to traffic to where they're needed, just like you need a Zip code to deliver mail," Sackstein added.

In this study, he and his colleagues modified the surface of the stem cells to express the molecule HCELL, which is a homing receptor that seeks out the adhesion molecule E-selectin found on the lining of certain blood vessels, including those found in bone, the researchers said.

The modified stem cells were injected into mice, where they migrated to bone and made patches of human bone within the mouse bone.

The study was published online Jan. 13 and was expected to be in the February print issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Brigham and Women's Hospital, news release, Jan. 13, 2008

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