"The cells are seeing the same soluble proteins. In both cases it's the shape alone that's dictating whether they turn into fat or bone, and that hasn't been appreciated before," said Milan Mrksich, Professor in Chemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, who led the study. "That's exciting because stem-cell therapies are of enormous interest right now, and a significant effort is ongoing to identify the laboratory conditions that can take a stem cell and push it into a specific lineage."
The UChicago team found that making cells assume a star shape promotes a tense cytoskeleton, which provides structural support for cells, while a flower shape promotes a looser cytoskeleton. "On a flower shape you get the majority of cells turning to fat, and on a star shape you've got the majority of cells turning into bone," said Kris Kilian, a National Institutes of Health Fellow in Mrksich's research group. The UChicago team published its findings in the March 1 Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Mrksich cautioned that the method is far from ready for use in the harvest of stem cells for therapeutic use, but it does signal a potentially promising direction for further study.
Funding: National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
Steve Koppes | EurekAlert!
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