Mesenchymal stem cells have become attractive tools for bioengineers, but some scientists haven’t given up on their regenerative potential
Stem cell scientists had what first appeared to be an easy win for regenerative medicine when they discovered mesenchymal stem cells several decades ago. These cells, found in the bone marrow, can give rise to bone, fat, and muscle tissue, and have been used in hundreds of clinical trials for tissue repair. Unfortunately, the results of these trials have been underwhelming. One problem is that these stem cells don’t stick around in the body long enough to benefit the patient.
But Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) scientists at Boston Children’s Hospital aren’t ready to give up. A research team led by Juan Melero-Martin, PhD, recently found that transplanting mesenchymal stem cells along with blood vessel-forming cells naturally found in circulation improves results. This co-transplantation keeps the mesenchymal stem cells alive longer in mice after engraftment, up to a few weeks compared to hours without co-transplantation. This improved survival gives the mesenchymal stem cells sufficient time to display their full regenerative potential, generating new bone or fat tissue in the recipient mouse body. The finding was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
“We are losing mesenchymal stem cells very rapidly when we transplant them into the body, in part, because we are not giving them what they need,” said Melero-Martin, an HSCI affiliated faculty member and an assistant professor of surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
“In the body, these cells sit very close to the capillaries, constantly receiving signals from them, and even though this communication is broken when we isolate mesenchymal stem cells in a laboratory dish, they seem to be ok because we have learned how to feed them,” he said. “But when you put the mesenchymal stem cells back into the body, there is a period of time when they will not have this proximity to capillary cells and they start to die; so including these blood vessel-forming cells from the very beginning of a transplantation made a major difference.”
Melero-Martin's research has immediate translational implications, as current mesenchymal clinical trials don’t follow a co-transplantation procedure. He is already collaborating with surgical colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital to see if his discovery can help improve fat and bone grafts. However, giving patients two different types of cells, as opposed to just one, would require more time and experiments to determine safety and efficacy. Melero-Martin is seeking to identify the specific signals mesenchymal stem cells receive from the blood vessel-forming cells in order to be able to mimic the signals without the cells themselves.
“Even though mesenchymal stem cells have been around for a while, I think there is still a lack of fundamental knowledge about communication between them and other cells in the body,” he said. “My lab is interested in going even beyond what we found to try to understand whether these cell-cell signals are different in each tissue of the body, and to learn how to educate both blood vessel-forming and mesenchymal stem cells to co-ordinate tissue specific regenerative responses.”
Other Harvard Stem Cell Institute researchers are studying mesenchymal stem cells as bioengineering tools to deliver therapeutics, which is possible because of the cell type’s unique ability to not trigger an immune response. Jeffrey Karp, PhD, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital has developed several methods to turn these cells into drug-delivery vehicles, so that after transplantation they can, for example, hone in on swollen tissue and secrete anti-inflammatory compounds. And Khalid Shah, PhD, at Massachusetts General Hospital has designed a gel that holds mesenchymal stem cells in place so that they can expose brain tumors to cancer-killing herpes viruses.
“A lot of these applications have no real direct link with mesenchymal stem cells’ supposed progenitor cell function,” Melero-Martin said. “In our study, we went back to the collective ambition to use these cells as a way to regenerate tissues and we are not in a position to say how that affects other uses that people are proposing.”
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health. Ruei-Zeng Lin, PhD, a research fellow in surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, is first author on the PNAS paper.
Cited: Lin, et. al., "Human endothelial colony-forming cells serve as trophic mediators for mesenchymal stem cell engraftment via paracrine signaling" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 30, 2014), doi: 10.1073/pnas.1405388111
Advancing Biomedicine From Classroom to Clinic
The Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology advance the understanding of human development and disease, support the discovery of stem cell-based therapies and cures for diseases, create collaborations across traditional institutional and disciplinary boundaries, and teach and train the next generation of leading stem cell scientists.
Joseph Caputo | Eurek Alert!
Pathogenic bacteria hitchhiking to North and Baltic Seas?
22.07.2016 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
Unconventional quasiparticles predicted in conventional crystals
22.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemische Physik fester Stoffe
Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.
Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...
Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases
Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...
Scaffolding and specialised workers help with the delivery – Heidelberg biochemists gain new insights into biogenesis
A type of scaffolding on which specialised workers ply their trade helps in the manufacturing process of the two subunits from which the ribosome – the protein...
Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum München have developed a new mass spectrometry imaging method which, for the first time, makes it possible to analyze hundreds of metabolites in fixed tissue samples. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Protocols, explain the new access to metabolic information, which will offer previously unexploited potential for tissue-based research and molecular diagnostics.
In biomedical research, working with tissue samples is indispensable because it permits insights into the biological reality of patients, for example, in...
Chemists at the University of Basel have succeeded in using computer simulations to elucidate transient structures in proteins. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, the researchers set out how computer simulations of details at the atomic level can be used to understand proteins’ modes of action.
Using computational chemistry, it is possible to characterize the motion of individual atoms of a molecule. Today, the latest simulation techniques allow...
15.07.2016 | Event News
15.07.2016 | Event News
11.07.2016 | Event News
22.07.2016 | Information Technology
22.07.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
22.07.2016 | Life Sciences