Indeed, stem cells’ ability to transform into specialized cell types is proving very useful in modern medicine. But their many applications come with a disadvantage.
Their current transformation process requires the use of protein molecules called growth factors. So far, this has come with negative side effects including the risk of tumor development.
No growth factors needed
Now, researchers at Texas A&M University have published a study that explores a new class of human stem cells that can grow bone or cartilage cells when applied to adult stem cells, without the interference of growth factors. The study identifies this new class of cells as the two-dimensional nanoparticles known as nanosilicates.
Computational biologist from Weill Cornell Medicine at Cornell University and corresponding author of the study, Irtisha Singh said the researchers studied the nanoparticles' interactions with stem cells by using RNA-seq, a next-generation sequencing technique.
“RNA-seq takes a snapshot of gene activity of the cell at any given moment. This is similar to taking a high-resolution photo during the Super Bowl and identifying the reaction of every fan during the touchdown," Singh said.
“This technique is very sensitive to investigate the interaction of a wide variety of nanomaterials with cells,” added Jake Carrow, a doctoral student and co-first author of the study.
“With this combination of nanotechnology and computational biology, we can better understand how a material’s chemistry, shape and size can contribute to cell functions.”
Nanosilicates, it turns out, are cells shaped like flaxseeds, only 10 million times smaller, that can be directed to grow bone and cartilage tissue from biological cells. They are made of atomic layers of minerals commonly found in the human body.
A new class of therapies
So far nanosilicates have been used in fields such energy and optics. Now these nanoparticles may soon be used in the medical field as well, introducing the development of a new class of therapies.
The study’s researchers say they are well suited for possible therapy against osteoarthritis and orthopedic injuries. “The ability to customize a therapy to a specific tissue, simply by changing the mineral content within the nanoparticle, presents a great potential within the field of regenerative engineering,” said Lauren Cross, also co-first author on the publication.
“We believe this new field of ‘mineralomics’ can provide a viable alternative compared to the current treatments existing today.”
The research, led by Dr. Akhilesh Gaharwar, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and head of the “Inspired Nanomaterials and Tissue Engineering Laboratory,” is funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. The study, entitled “Widespread changes in transcriptome profile of human mesenchymal stem cells induced by two-dimensional nanosilicates,” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.