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Smart stem cells home to damaged tissue

28 October 2016

Stem cell-based therapy promises cures for a multitude of diseases and disorders including regeneration of heart tissue, but is severely limited by the ability of stem cells to identify the damaged location and remain there after administration. A new strategy is being developed at the University of Bristol to address this challenge.

Dr Adam Perriman, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bristol, is known for his pioneering research on the construction and study of novel synthetic biomolecular systems (hybrid bionanomaterials) using advanced physical techniques. Hybrid bionanomaterials can comprise highly cooperative biological and synthetic components that can be used to amplify or attenuate the assembly process in the damaged tissue, and the modular/systems methodology that underpins directed assembly can provide a mechanism for the development of non-traditional approaches to regenerative medicine.

Dr Perriman, together with his interdisciplinary team comprising Dr Paul Race (School of Biochemistry, University of Bristol), Prof Raimondo Ascione (Clinical Director Bristol Heart Institute Hospital, Bristol) and Dr Sabine Hauert (School of Engineering Mathematics, University of Bristol), used the Catalyst Fund award from the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute to design and construct novel protein-polymer nanohybrids that included introduction of special homing proteins into the cell membranes of adult mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs, the type of cells that can develop into a variety of cell types), a technique known as ‘stem cell painting’. This technique offers a significant improvement on other existing cell therapy methods (such as intravenous or intra-arterial infusion of MSCs), which commonly lead to undesirable accumulation of the cells at the lungs and liver, thus reducing the efficiency of systemic delivery and increasing the likelihood of producing potentially lethal microemboli.

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