A common problem associated with the use of stem cells is that they tend to migrate away from the actual repair site. This causes a disruption in the healing process, greatly hindering the overall repair process.
Thanks to a new technique pioneered by a team of researchers at the University of Rochester
, stem cells are kept in place resulting in significantly faster regeneration of the targeted tissue. According to a research article published in Acta Biomaterialia,
the technique involves using hydrogel polymers to temporarily encase stem cells. The hydrogel polymers encasing the stem cells hold water, which helps keep the injected stem cells alive. The hydrogels mimic the natural tissues of the body, and are specially designed to degrade and disappear before the body interprets them as a foreign object.
A representation of hydrogel polymers (straight lines) trapping stem cells (light-colored figures) and water (blue). Credit: University of Rochester.
Preventing the body from releasing a defense response is what keeps the healing process active. The researchers were able to manipulate the time it took for hydrogels to dissolve and disappear by modifying groups of atoms. These groups, called degradable groups, are inside of the polymer molecules, allowing manipulation of the polymer itself. Using a process of introducing different degradable groups to the chains of polymers, the researchers were able to alter the time it took for the hydrogels to degrade before being recognized by the body.
This new process is not specific to bone tissue regeneration, in fact, the team of researchers believe that it could be used in many areas of stem cell therapy, possibly even used for an infarction (tissue death, or necrosis) not only in the heart, but nearly anywhere in the body.
When first introduced, stem cell research was controversial, though widely misunderstood. Fortunately, stem cell research has made leaps and bounds, and it has shown promise in not only regrowing tissue, bone, and even teeth (as mentioned in one of our recent articles
), but also using adult stem cells to regrow limbs for amputees. Additional applications include curing diseases like Parkinson’s, reversing blindness in retinal cells, and even regenerating damaged nerves.
The ban on stem cell research was lifted in 2009