Biomedical researchers at the University at Buffalo have engineered adult stem cells that scientists can grow continuously in culture, a discovery that could speed development of cost-effective treatments for diseases including heart disease, diabetes, immune disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.
The researchers say the breakthrough overcomes a frustrating barrier to progress in the field of regenerative medicine: The difficulty of growing adult stem cells for clinical applications.
Because mesenchymal stem cells have a limited life span in laboratory cultures, scientists and doctors who use the cells in research and treatments must continuously obtain fresh samples from bone marrow donors, a process both expensive and time-consuming. In addition, mesenchymal stem cells from different donors can vary in performance.
The cells that UB researchers modified show no signs of aging in culture, but otherwise appear to function as regular mesenchymal stem cells do -- including by conferring therapeutic benefits in an animal study of heart disease. Despite their propensity to proliferate in the laboratory, MSC-Universal cells did not form tumors in animal testing.
Stem cells help regenerate or repair damaged tissues, primarily by releasing growth factors that encourage existing cells in the human body to function and grow.
Lee's ongoing work indicates that this feature makes it feasible to repair tissue damage by injecting mesenchymal stem cells into skeletal muscle, a less invasive procedure than injecting the cells directly into an organ requiring repair. In a rodent model of heart failure, Lee and collaborators showed that intramuscular delivery of mesenchymal stem cells improved heart chamber function and reduced scar tissue formation.