Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gravity helps scientists make use of stem cells

Stem cells are well-known as a promising therapeutic agent, because they have the capability to specialize in all possible cell types, allowing scientists to create a great variety of tissues. When the body fails to repair certain tissues by itself, such as those of the brain and heart, science may be able to lend a hand by use of stem cells. However, coaching these cells into becoming the right kind of tissue that does exactly what the scientists want, and make it ready for transplantation, is not that easy. Now, researchers from the Sbarro Health Research Organization have discovered that gravity plays an important role in stem cell behaviour, and reducing gravitational pressure may actually be helpful to improve stem cell therapy.

While embryonic stem cells have the capacity to turn into all possible tissues, there are more mature stem cells that have committed to a cellular lineage, but still have the capability to turn into a variety of different cells. Hematopoietic stem cells, for example, are able to turn into blood cells, making them useful for the construction of blood vessels, or blood components such as red blood cells or immune cells. The scientists focused on hematopoietic stem cells and studied the effect of gravity on specialization into components of blood vessels.

In order to experiment with gravity, the researchers created conditions of microgravity, which basically means the Earthly gravitational forces are removed, and cells basically have no weight. It is known that there are several chemical triggers that aid in growth of stem cells and the specialization that is needed to create functional tissues, but the influence of mechanical triggers, such as gravity, are not well understood. Therefore, these experiments were needed to point out what a change in gravity does with a cell's ability to respond to chemical triggers.

The scientists found that conditions of microgravity markedly altered the way hematopoietic stem cells respond to chemical cues. It reveals that interaction between chemical and mechanical signals is important for stem cells, and scientists need to be aware of this when attempting to use them for therapy. In order to modify these cells and effectively tell them how and when to specialize, scientists should be aware of mechanical factors altering cellular behaviour. According to the researchers that conducted the study, their findings are important for effective growth of stem cells that are to be used for therapies; it will allow us to create more efficient culturing conditions to nurture and grow them.
The hematopoietic stem cell has the capability to turn into a variety of cells. This overview shows specialization into a variety of cells of the immune system.


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