Scientists at The University of Manchester are striving to discover how the body’s natural sugars can be used to create stem cell treatments for heart disease and nerve damage – thanks to a £370,000 (approximately $679,000) funding boost.
All cells that make up the tissues of the body – such as skin, liver, brain, and blood – are surrounded by a layer of sugars that coat the cells.
These sugars help the cells to know what type of cell they are and to respond to the other cells which surround them and the chemical messages that pass between cells.
Now Dr. Catherine Merry from The School of Materials has been awarded a prestigious New Investigator Research Grant by the Medical Research Council (MRC) to investigate how different cells make different sugar types and to test out theories on how sugars can influence cell behavior.
Dr. Merry, lead researcher, said, “At present, the way in which cells make these sugars is not well understood. From the little we do know, we believe isolated fragments of these sugars could be used to instruct cells to behave in particular ways.”
“We also think we might be able to force cells to make one particular type of sugar and not another, thereby influencing the way in which that cell grows and interacts with other cells.”
“This work is important in helping us understand how the sugars made by the cells change during this process.”
“We also believe our research might suggest how sugars can be used to help embryonic stem cells grow in the lab – or how they can be instructed to become cell types which could be of use in human therapies to treat problems with nerve, heart muscle, or blood cells.”
"Although the prospect of creating cells from embryonic stem cells for use in humans is still a considerable time away, research such as ours helps move towards this goal.”
Dr. Merry’s research will take place over 3 years in newly refurbished high-tech laboratories in the Materials Science Centre at the University.
Illustration: Sugars on mouse embryonic stem cells. --University of Manchester.
University of Manchester News Release (07/22/08)
Innovations Report (07/23/08)