A type of adult stem cell is now proving itself more versatile for research and therapies thanks to revolutionary 3D experiments. These cells have already shown great promise for repairing damaged bone and cartilage but until now have been fairly limited in the types of cells they can form in the laboratory.
Dr Paul Genever from the University of York will be speaking later today (31 March) at the annual UK National Stem Cell Network science meeting. He will tell the gathered audience of world-class scientists about his work to grow mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) - currently one of the leading candidates to be used in stem cell therapies - as tiny spheres. Under these conditions MSCs show potential to become a variety of different cell types including, possibly, the early precursors to heart muscle cells. The work is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Smith & Nephew.
MSCs are common in children and adults and quite easy to find in blood, bone marrow, and many other tissues. They are already being used to repair bone in a small number of patients with severe fractures or bone disease.
Dr Genever's experiments hope to recreate the microscopic 3D environment that stem cells would normally occupy inside our bodies and so give an accurate approximation of the factors that might influence the ability of MSCs to eventually produce different types of cell for regenerative medicine.
Dr Genever said "In the past we've grown MSCs in 2D layers in the lab and they are only really strongly inclined to become bone, fat or cartilage - they are very useful for research and therapy, but in both cases would largely be limited to these three cell types.