Engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have transformed a polymer found in common brown seaweed into a device that can support the growth and release of stem cells at the site of a bodily injury or at the source of a disease. The findings mark an important step in efforts to develop new medical therapies using stem cells.
“We have developed a scaffold for stem cell culture that can degrade in the body at a controlled rate,” said lead researcher Ravi Kane, professor of chemical and biological engineering. “With this level of control we can foster the growth of stem cells in the scaffold and direct how, when, and where we want them to be released in the body.”
Kane and his collaborators, which include the author of the paper and former Rensselaer graduate student Randolph Ashton, created the device from a material known as alginate. Alginate is a complex carbohydrate found naturally in brown seaweed. When mixed with calcium, alginate gels into a rigid, three-dimensional mesh.
The device could have wide-ranging potential for use in regenerative medicine, Kane explains. For example, the scaffolds could one day be used in the human body to release stem cells directly into injured tissue. Kane and his colleagues hope that the scaffold could eventually be used for medical therapies such as releasing healthy bone stem cells right at the site of a broken bone, or releasing neural stem cells in the brain where cells have been killed by diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Illustration: The new stem cell scaffold. Circled in black: a cluster of proliferating neural stem cells. Circled in white: a separate microbead releases alginate lyase that will break down the outer layer of the scaffold, releasing stem cells into the body. --Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute/Randolph S. Ashton.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Press Release (11/08/07)
Medical News Today (11/09/07)
Science Daily (11/11/07)
Associated Content (11/13/07)
Abstract (Biomaterials Volume 28, Issue 36, December 2007, Pages 5518-5525)