Friday, September 25, 2009

With Stiff Gel, Get From Adult Stem Cells to Muscle Cells

Stiff gels are important for coaxing adult stem cells to differentiate into muscle cells. Making muscle cells from adult stem cells in the lab would provide important new sources of high quality cells for a wide range of cell-based regenerative therapies to treat a diverse set of muscle diseases, from muscular dystrophy to heart attacks.

Adam Engler, a bioengineering professor at UC San Diego, is using stiff gels as part of his work to create more realistic stem cell niches that will provide the right cues (in both time and space) for adult stem cells to turn to muscle cells.

This week, Engler received a $1.5 million grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop these stem cell niches over the next five years.

The images above highlight the progress Engler has already made. Both images above are adult mesenchymal stem cells (or MSCs). The adult stem cells on the left were grown on gels with stiffness of 1kPa (i.e. soft). The same type of stem cells (right) were grown on intermediately stiff gels (11kPa). The 11kPa gel recapitulates muscle stiffness, hence the adult mesenchymal stem cells on the right expressed MyoD, the protein labeled in the green color. MyoD plays a key role in regulating muscle differentiation. The 1kPa gel (left) is too soft, so those cells do not make the MyoD protein and most but not all lack green staining. The new project, funded by Adam Engler’s five-year $1.5 million NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, will integrate the cue of matrix stiffness with matrix topography and growth factors in a time and spatially-dependent way in order to make a more complete stem cell niche.

Learn about all the NIH New Innovator Award Recipients for 2009 here.

Scott LaFee mentioned Adam Engler in a San Diego Union Tribune story about other recent NIH grants to UC San Diego and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology.

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