Tracking and mapping the health of damaged organs

Tissue engineering

Medical treatments for a variety of diseases have advanced dramatically in recent decades, but sometimes they come with a cost; namely damage to surrounding tissues and organs. That’s where stem cell research and regenerative medicine come in. Those fields seek to develop new ways of repairing the damage. But how do you see if those repairs are working? Researchers at Purdue say they have found a way to do just that.

The researchers have developed a 3D technology that allows them to track, map and monitor what happens with cells and tissues that are being used to repair damage caused by disease or the treatment for the disease. By observing the cells and tissues they can see if they are staying where they are needed and if they are working.

The technology, published in the journal ACS Nano, uses tiny sensors placed on a flexible scaffold to monitor the new materials in the body. Ingeniously the scaffold is buoyant, so it can float and survive in the wet conditions found in many parts of the body.

In a news release, Chi Hwan Lee, the leader of the research team, says the device could help millions of people:

“Tissue engineering already provides new hope for hard-to-treat disorders, and our technology brings even more possibilities. This device offers an expanded set of potential options to monitor cell and tissue function after surgical transplants in diseased or damaged bodies. Our technology offers diverse options for sensing and works in moist internal body environments that are typically unfavorable for electronic instruments.”

Purdue created this video showing the device and explaining how it works.

New findings about muscle stem cells reveals the potential for growing replacement organs

Chrissa Kioussi’s group at Oregon State University has made exciting advances in further unraveling the scientific mysteries of stem cells. In work detailed in Scientific Reports, this group found that muscle-specific stem cells actually have the ability to make multiple different cell types.

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Pumping up our knowledge about muscle stem cells

Initially, this group was interested in understanding how gene expression changes during embryonic development of skeletal muscle. To understand this process, they labeled muscle stem cells with a kind of fluorescent dye, called GFP, which allowed them to isolate these cells at different stages of development.  Once isolated, they determined what genes were being expressed by RNA sequencing. Surprisingly, they found that in addition to genes involved in muscle formation, they also identified activation of genes involved in the blood, nervous, immune and skeletal systems.

This work is particularly exciting, because it suggests the existence of stem cell “pockets,” or stem cells that are capable of not only making a specific cell type, but an entire organ system.

In a press release, Dr. Kioussi said:

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Chrissa Kioussi, PhD

“That cell populations can give rise to so many different cell types, we can use it at the development stage and allow it to become something else over time… We can identify these cells and be able to generate not one but four different organs from them — this is a prelude to making body parts in a lab.” 

This study is particularly exciting because it gives more credence to the idea that entire limbs can be reconstructed from a small group of stem cells. Such advances could have enormous meaning for individuals who have lost body parts due to amputation or disease.