Economy, Sci & Tech

Stem Cells Magnet Could Help Heal Bones

Stem Cells Magnet Could Help Heal BonesStem Cells Magnet Could Help Heal Bones

Tiny bundles of stem cells built in the laboratory using microscopic magnets could pave the way to revolutionize the treatment of repairing bone, cartilage, ligaments and tendons.

The technique, developed by British scientists, overcomes one of the main obstacles to unlocking the huge medical potential of mesenchymal stem cells.

Naturally found in the bone marrow, stem cells have an awkward habit of spontaneously transforming into cell types when stored outside the body, Science Today reported.

Britain’s University of Glasgow team overcame this problem by creating ball-shaped clumps of around 10,000 stem cells, just big enough to see with the naked eye.

When they were placed in a soft gel with the consistency of bone marrow jelly, cell balls remain unchanged for long periods of time.

Placing the 3D cultures next to laboratory “wound models” simulating damaged cartilage, bone and ligament, the stem cells reactivated. They migrated toward the injured tissue and began to develop into the right kind of cells to promote healing.

Dr. Catherine Berry, from the university’s Institute of Molecular Cell and Systems Biology, said, “This is a really exciting discovery, which uses a fairly simple and affordable method to grow and maintain stem cells ready to heal tissues.”

To make the stem cell bundles, the team used an ingenious technique that exploits magnetism.

Microscopic magnetic nanoparticles were first added to the stem cells, allowing them to be drawn together by the attractive force of a simple magnet.

The research, published in the journal ACS Nano, also has implications for the treatment of leukemia and breast cancer.

Both diseases feature bundles of cancer stem cells that lie dormant in bone marrow for many years before reactivating and triggering disease recurrence.

Dr Berry added that perhaps changes in mesenchymal stem cell activity are linked to cancer cell activation.

“We’re keen to explore how we can use our technique to understand more about how stem cells communicate with other cells and what we can do to use stem cells more effectively in medicine,” he said.