Tag Archives: stem cells

Repairing a ‘broken’ heart with a 3D printed patch

The idea of using stem cells to help heal your heart so you don’t have scar tissue seems to be a step closer to reality. From an April 14, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily which announces the research and explains why scar tissue in your heart is a problem,

A team of biomedical engineering researchers, led by the University of Minnesota, has created a revolutionary 3D-bioprinted patch that can help heal scarred heart tissue after a heart attack. The discovery is a major step forward in treating patients with tissue damage after a heart attack.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. killing more than 360,000 people a year. During a heart attack, a person loses blood flow to the heart muscle and that causes cells to die. Our bodies can’t replace those heart muscle cells so the body forms scar tissue in that area of the heart, which puts the person at risk for compromised heart function and future heart failure.

An April 13, 2017 University of Minnesota news release (also on EurekAlert but dated April 14, 2017), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

In this study, researchers from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Alabama-Birmingham used laser-based 3D-bioprinting techniques to incorporate stem cells derived from adult human heart cells on a matrix that began to grow and beat synchronously in a dish in the lab.

When the cell patch was placed on a mouse following a simulated heart attack, the researchers saw significant increase in functional capacity after just four weeks. Since the patch was made from cells and structural proteins native to the heart, it became part of the heart and absorbed into the body, requiring no further surgeries.

“This is a significant step forward in treating the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.,” said Brenda Ogle, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota. “We feel that we could scale this up to repair hearts of larger animals and possibly even humans within the next several years.”

Ogle said that this research is different from previous research in that the patch is modeled after a digital, three-dimensional scan of the structural proteins of native heart tissue.  The digital model is made into a physical structure by 3D printing with proteins native to the heart and further integrating cardiac cell types derived from stem cells.  Only with 3D printing of this type can we achieve one micron resolution needed to mimic structures of native heart tissue.

“We were quite surprised by how well it worked given the complexity of the heart,” Ogle said.  “We were encouraged to see that the cells had aligned in the scaffold and showed a continuous wave of electrical signal that moved across the patch.”

Ogle said they are already beginning the next step to develop a larger patch that they would test on a pig heart, which is similar in size to a human heart.

The researchers has made this video of beating heart cells in a petri dish available,

Date: Published on Apr 14, 2017

Caption: Researchers used laser-based 3D-bioprinting techniques to incorporate stem cells derived from adult human heart cells on a matrix that began to grow and beat synchronously in a dish in the lab. Credit: Brenda Ogle, University of Minnesota

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Myocardial Tissue Engineering With Cells Derived From Human-Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells and a Native-Like, High-Resolution, 3-Dimensionally Printed Scaffold by Ling Gao, Molly E. Kupfer, Jangwook P. Jung, Libang Yang, Patrick Zhang, Yong Da Sie, Quyen Tran, Visar Ajeti, Brian T. Freeman, Vladimir G. Fast, Paul J. Campagnola, Brenda M. Ogle, Jianyi Zhang. Circulation Research April 14, 2017, Volume 120, Issue 8 https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.116.310277 Circulation Research. 2017;120:1318-1325 Originally published online] January 9, 2017

This paper appears to be open access.

A new platform for culturing stem cells: a Multiplexed Artificial Cellular Microenvironment array

Japanese scientists have developed a more precise method for culturing stem cells according to a March 14, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

A team of researchers in Japan has developed a new platform for culturing human pluripotent stem cells that provides far more control of culture conditions than previous tools by using micro and nanotechnologies.

The Multiplexed Artificial Cellular Microenvironment (MACME) array places nanofibres, mimicking cellular matrices, into fluid-filled micro-chambers of precise sizes, which mimic extracellular environments.

Caption: The Multiplexed Artificial Cellular Microenvironment (MACME) array, consisted with a microfluidic structure and nanofibre array for mimicking cellular microenvironments. Credit: Kyoto University iCeMS

A March 17, 2017 Kyoto University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains the research in more detail,

Human pluripotent stems cells (hPSCs) hold great promise for tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and cell-based therapies because they can become any type of cell. The environment surrounding the cells plays a major role in determining what tissues they become, if they replicate into more cells, or die. However, understanding these interactions has been difficult because researchers have lacked tools that work on the appropriate scale.

Often, stem cells are cultured in a cell culture medium in small petri dishes. While factors such as medium pH levels and nutrients can be controlled, the artificial set up is on the macroscopic scale and does not allow for precise control of the physical environment surrounding the cells.

The MACME array miniaturizes this set up, culturing stem cells in rows of micro-chambers of cell culture medium. It also takes it a step further by placing nanofibers in these chambers to mimic the structures found around cells.

Led by Ken-ichiro Kamei of Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS), the team tested a variety of nanofiber materials and densities, micro-chamber heights and initial stem cell densities to determine the best combination that encourages human pluripotent stem cells to replicate.

They stained the cells with several fluorescent markers and used a microscope to see if the cells died, replicated or differentiated into tissues.

Their analysis revealed that gelatin nanofibers and medium-sized chambers that create medium seed cell density provided the best environment for the stem cells to continue to multiply. The quantity and density of neighboring cells strongly influences cell survival.

The array is an “optimal and powerful approach for understanding how environmental cues regulate cellular functions,” the researchers conclude in a recently published paper in the journal Small.

This array appears to be the first time multiple kinds of extracellular environments can be mounted onto a single device, making it much easier to compare how different environments influence cells.

The MACME array could substantially reduce experiment costs compared to conventional tools, in part because it is low volume and requires less cell culture medium. The array does not require any special equipment and is compatible with both commonly used laboratory pipettes and automated pipette systems for performing high-throughput screening.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Microfluidic-Nanofiber Hybrid Array for Screening of Cellular Microenvironments by Ken-ichiro Kamei, Yasumasa Mashimo, Momoko Yoshioka, Yumie Tokunaga, Christopher Fockenberg, Shiho Terada, Yoshie Koyama, Minako Nakajima, Teiko Shibata-Seki, Li Liu, Toshihiro Akaike, Eiry Kobatake, Siew-Eng How, Motonari Uesugi, and Yong Chen. Small DOI: 10.1002/smll.201603104 Version of Record online: 8 MAR 2017

© 2017 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

York University (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) research team creates 3D beating heart and matters of the heart at the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine

I have two items about cardiac research in Ontario. Not strictly speaking about nanotechnology, the two items do touch on topics covered here before, 3D organs and stem cells.

York University and its 3D beating heart

A Feb. 9, 2017 York University news release (also on EurekAlert), describe an innovative approach to creating 3D heart tissue,

Matters of the heart can be complicated, but York University scientists have found a way to create 3D heart tissue that beats in synchronized harmony, like a heart in love, that will lead to better understanding of cardiac health, and improved treatments.

York U chemistry Professor Muhammad Yousaf and his team of grad students have devised a way to stick three different types of cardiac cells together, like Velcro, to make heart tissue that beats as one.

Until now, most 2D and 3D in vitro tissue did not beat in harmony and required scaffolding for the cells to hold onto and grow, causing limitations. In this research, Yousaf and his team made a scaffold free beating tissue out of three cell types found in the heart – contractile cardiac muscle cells, connective tissue cells and vascular cells.

The researchers believe this is the first 3D in vitro cardiac tissue with three cell types that can beat together as one entity rather than at different intervals.

“This breakthrough will allow better and earlier drug testing, and potentially eliminate harmful or toxic medications sooner,” said Yousaf of York U’s Faculty of Science.

In addition, the substance used to stick cells together (ViaGlue), will provide researchers with tools to create and test 3D in vitro cardiac tissue in their own labs to study heart disease and issues with transplantation. Cardiovascular associated diseases are the leading cause of death globally and are responsible for 40 per cent of deaths in North America.

“Making in vitro 3D cardiac tissue has long presented a challenge to scientists because of the high density of cells and muscularity of the heart,” said Dmitry Rogozhnikov, a chemistry PhD student at York. “For 2D or 3D cardiac tissue to be functional it needs the same high cellular density and the cells must be in contact to facilitate synchronized beating.”

Although the 3D cardiac tissue was created at a millimeter scale, larger versions could be made, said Yousaf, who has created a start-up company OrganoLinX to commercialize the ViaGlue reagent and to provide custom 3D tissues on demand.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Scaffold Free Bio-orthogonal Assembly of 3-Dimensional Cardiac Tissue via Cell Surface Engineering by Dmitry Rogozhnikov, Paul J. O’Brien, Sina Elahipanah, & Muhammad N. Yousaf. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 39806 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep39806 Published online: 23 December 2016

This paper is open access.

Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and its heart stem cell research

Steven Erwood has written about how Toronto has become a centre for certain kinds of cardiac research by focusing on specific researchers in a Feb. 13, 2017 posting on the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine’s expression blog (Note: Links have been removed),

You may have heard that Paris is the city of love, but you might not know that Toronto specializes in matters of the heart, particularly broken hearts.

Dr. Ren Ke Li, an investigator with the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, established his lab at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute in 1993 hoping to find a way to replace the muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, that are lost after a heart attack. Specifically, Li hoped to transplant a collection of cells, called stem cells, into a heart damaged by a heart attack. Stem cells have the power to differentiate into virtually any cell type, so if Li could coax them to become cardiomyocytes, they could theoretically reverse the damage caused by the heart attack.

Over the years, Li’s experiments using stem cells to regenerate and repair damaged heart tissue, which progressed all the way through to human clinical trials, pushed Li to rethink his approach to heart repair. Most of the transplanted cells failed to engraft to the host tissue and many of those that did successfully integrate into the patient’s heart remained non-contractile, sitting still beside the rest of the beating heart muscle. Despite this, the treatments were still proving beneficial — albeit less beneficial than Li had hoped. These cells weren’t replacing the lost cardiomyocytes, but they were still helping the patient recover. Li was then just beginning to reveal something that is now well described: transplanting exogenous stem cells (originating outside the patient) onto damaged tissue stimulated the endogenous stem cells to repair that damage. These transplanted stem cells were changing the behaviour of the patient’s own stem cells, enhancing their response to injury.

Li calls this process “rejuvenation” — arguing that the reason older populations can’t recover from cardiac injury is because they have fewer stem cells, and those stem cells have lost their ability to repair and regenerate damaged tissue over time. Li argues that the positive effects he was seeing in his experiments and clinical trials was a restoration or reversal of age-related deterioration in repair capability — a rejuvenation of the aged heart.

Li, alongside fellow OIRM [Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine] researcher and cardiac surgeon at Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Richard Weisel, dedicated a large part of their research effort to understanding this process. Weisel explains, “We put young cells into old animals, and we can get them to respond to a heart attack like a young person — which is remarkable!”

A team of researchers led by the duo published an article in Basic Research in Cardiology last month describing a new method to rejuvenate the aged heart, and characterizing this rejuvenation at the molecular and cellular level.

Successfully advancing this research to the clinic is where Weisel thinks Toronto provides a unique advantage. “We have the ability to do the clinical trials — the same people who are working on these projects [in the lab], can also take them into the clinic, and a lot of other places in the world [the clinicians and the researchers] are separate. We’ve been doing that for all the areas of stem cell research.” This unique set of circumstances, Weisel argues, more readily allows for a successful transition from research to clinical practice.

But an integrated research and clinical environment isn’t all the city has to offer to those looking to make substantial progress in stem cell therapies. Dr. Michael Laflamme, OIRM researcher and a leading authority on stem cell therapies for cardiac repair, called his decision to relocate to Toronto from the University of Washington in Seattle “a no-brainer”.

Laflamme focuses on improving the existing approaches to exogenous stem cell transplantation in cardiac repair and believes that solving the problems Li faced in his early experiments is just a matter of finding the right cell type. Laflamme, in an ongoing preclinical trial funded by OIRM, is differentiating stem cells in a bioreactor into ventricular cardiomyocytes, the specific type of cell lost after a heart attack, and delivering those cells directly to the scar tissue in hopes of turning it back into muscle. Laflamme is optimistic these ventricular cardiomyocytes might be just the cell type he’s looking for. Using these cells in animal models, although in a mixture of other cardiac cell types, Laflamme explains, “We’ve shown that those cells will stably engraft and they actually become electrically integrated with the rest of the tissue — they will [beat] in synchrony with the rest of the heart.”

Laflamme states that “Toronto is the place where we can get this stuff done better and we can get it done faster,” citing the existing Toronto-based expertise in both the differentiation of stem cells and the biotechnological means to scale these processes as being unparalleled elsewhere in the world.

It’s not only academic researchers and clinicians that recognize Toronto’s potential to advance regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy. Pharmaceutical giant Bayer, partnered with San Francisco-based venture capital firm Versant Ventures, announced last December a USD 225 million investment in a stem cell biotechnology company called BlueRock Therapeutics — the second largest investment of it’s kind in the history of the biotechnology industry. …

There’s substantially to more Erwood’s piece in the original posting.

One final thought, I wonder if there is a possibility that York University’s ViaGlue might be useful in the work talking place at Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine. I realize the two institutions are in the same city but do the researchers even know about each other’s work?

Better technique for growing organoids taking them from the lab to the clinic

A Nov. 16, 2016 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) press release (also on EurekAlert) describes a new material for growing organoids,

Organoids are miniature organs that can be grown in the lab from a person’s stem cells. They can be used to model diseases, and in the future could be used to test drugs or even replace damaged tissue in patients. But currently organoids are very difficult to grow in a standardized and controlled way, which is key to designing and using them. EPFL scientists have now solved the problem by developing a patent-pending “hydrogel” that provides a fully controllable and tunable way to grow organoids. …

Organoids need a 3D scaffold

Growing organoids begins with stem cells — immature cells that can grow into any cell type of the human body and that play key roles in tissue function and regeneration. To form an organoid, the stem cells are grown inside three-dimensional gels that contain a mix of biomolecules that promote stem cell renewal and differentiation.

The role of these gels is to mimic the natural environment of the stem cells, which provides them with a protein- and sugar-rich scaffold called the “extracellular matrix”, upon which the stem cells build specific body tissues. The stem cells stick to the extracellular matrix gel, and then “self-organize” into miniature organs like retinas, kidneys, or the gut. These tiny organs retain key aspects of their real-life biology, and can be used to study diseases or test drugs before moving on to human trials.

But the current gels used for organoid growth are derived from mice, and have problems. First, it is impossible to control their makeup from batch to batch, which can cause stem cells to behave inconsistently. Second, their biochemical complexity makes them very difficult to fine-tune for studying the effect of different parameters (e.g. biological molecules, mechanical properties, etc.) on the growth of organoids. Finally, the gels can carry pathogens or immunogens, which means that they are not suitable for growing organoids to be used in the clinic.

A hydrogel solution

The lab of Matthias Lütolf at EPFL’s Institute of Bioengineering has developed a synthetic “hydrogel” that eschews the limitations of conventional, naturally derived gels. The patent-pending gel is made of water and polyethylene glycol, a substance used widely today in various forms, from skin creams and toothpastes to industrial applications and, as in this case, bioengineering.

Nikolce Gjorevski, the first author of the study, and his colleagues used the hydrogel to grow stem cells of the gut into a miniature intestine. The functional hydrogel was not only a goal in and of itself, but also a means to identify the factors that influence the stem cells’ ability to expand and form organoids. By carefully tweaking the hydrogel’s properties, they discovered that separate stages of the organoid formation process require different mechanical environments and biological components.

One such factor is a protein called fibronectin, which helps the stem cells attach to the hydrogel. Lütolf’s lab found that this attachment itself is immensely important for growing organoids, as it triggers a whole host of signals to the stem cell that tell it to grow and build an intestine-like structure. The researchers also discovered an essential role for the mechanical properties, i.e. the physical stiffness, of the gel in regulating intestinal stem cell behavior, shedding light on how cells are able to sense, process and respond to physical stimuli. This insight is particularly valuable – while the influence of biochemical signals on stem cells is well-understood, the effect of physical factors has been more mysterious.

Because the hydrogel is man-made, it is easy to control its chemical composition and key properties, and ensure consistency from batch to batch. And because it is artificial, it does not carry any risk of infection or triggering immune responses. As such, it provides a means of moving organoids from basic research to actual pharmaceutical and clinical applications in the future.

Lütolf’s lab is now researching other types of stem cells in order to extend the capacities of their hydrogel into other tissues.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Designer matrices for intestinal stem cell and organoid culture by Nikolce Gjorevski, Norman Sachs, Andrea Manfrin, Sonja Giger, Maiia E. Bragina, Paloma Ordóñez-Morán, Hans Clevers, & Matthias P. Lutolf.  Nature (2016) doi:10.1038/nature20168 Published online 16 November 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

A grant for regenerating bones with injectable stem cell microspheres

I have a longstanding interest in bones partly due to my introduction to a skeleton in a dance course and to US artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. In any event, it’s been too long since I’ve featured any research on bones here.

This news comes from the UK’s University of Nottingham. A July 25, 2016 news item on Nanowerk announced a grant for stem cell research,

The University of Nottingham has secured £1.2m to develop injectable stem cell-carrying materials to treat and prevent fractures caused by osteoporosis and other bone-thinning diseases.

A July 25, 2016 University of Nottingham press release, which originated the news item, offers more information about the proposed therapy and the research project (Note: Links have been removed),

The experimental materials consist of porous microspheres produced from calcium phosphates – a key component in bones – to be filled with stem cells extracted from the patient.

The targeted therapy could offer a quick, easy and minimally-invasive treatment that is injected into areas considered to be at high-risk of fracture to promote bone regeneration.

The funding grant, from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR i4i Challenge Award), also supports the development of a prototype delivery device to inject these stem cell loaded microspheres to the sites of interest.

In addition, project partners will investigate how well the materials stay in place once they have been injected inside the body.

Research leads, Dr Ifty Ahmed and Professor Brigitte Scammell explained that the aim was to develop a preventive treatment option to address the growing issue of fractures occurring due to bone-thinning diseases, which is exacerbated due to the worldwide ageing population.

Osteoporosis-related conditions affect some three million Britons, and cost the NHS over £1.73bn each year, according to the National Osteoporotic Society.

Dr Ahmed, from the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Nottingham, said, “We would advocate a national screening program, using a DEXA scan, which measures bone mineral density, to identify people at high risk of fracture due to osteoporosis.

“If we could strengthen these peoples bone before they suffered from fractures, using a simple injection procedure, it would save people the pain and trauma of broken bones and associated consequences such as surgery and loss of independence.”

The NIHR grant will also fund a Patient and Public Involvement study on the suitability of the technology, gauging the opinions and personal experience of people affected by osteoporosis as sufferers or carers, for example.

The project has already undertaken proof-of-concept work to test the feasibility of manufacturing the microsphere materials and lab work to ensure that stem cells attach and reside within these novel microsphere carriers.

The research is still at an early stage and the project team are working towards next phase pre-clinical trials.

This work reminded me of an unfinished piece of science fiction where I developed a society that had the ability to grow bone to replace lost limbs, replace lost bone matter, and restructure faces. I should get back to it one of these days. In the meantime, here’s an image of a microsphere,

A close-up of a injectable stem-cell carrying microsphere made of calcium phosphate which are injected to prevent and treat fractures caused by bone-thinning diseases. (Image: Ifty Ahmed; University of Nottingham)

A close-up of a injectable stem-cell carrying microsphere made of calcium phosphate which are injected to prevent and treat fractures caused by bone-thinning diseases. (Image: Ifty Ahmed; University of Nottingham)

One final note, fragile bones are no joke but there does seem to be a movement to diagnose more and more people with osteoporosis. Alan Cassels, in his July/August 2016 article for Common Ground magazine, points out that the guidelines for diagnosis have changed and more healthy people are being targeted,

… Americans, the experts tell us, are suffering an epidemic of osteoporosis. A new US osteoporosis guideline says that 72% of women over 65 are considered ‘diseased’ – a number which rises to 93% for those over 75 years old – and hence in need of drug therapy.

What is going on here?

Clearly, the only real ‘epidemic’ is the growing phenomenon where risks for disease are being turned into diseases, in and of themselves. In this racket, ‘high’ blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, low bone density, fluctuating blood sugars, high eyeball pressure and low testosterone, among other things, become worrying signs of chronic, lifelong conditions that demand attention and medication. As I’ve said in the past, “If you want to know why pharma is increasingly targeting healthy people with ‘preventive medicine,’ it’s because that’s where the money is.”

One thing all these risks-as-disease models have in common is they are shaped and supported by clinical practice guidelines. In these guidelines, doctors are told to measure their patients’ parameters. If your measurements are outside some preset levels deemed ‘high risk’ by the expert guidelines, you know what that means: more frequent trips to the pharmacy. The main downside of guidelines is they slap labels on people who aren’t sick and instill in physicians the constant idea their healthy patients are really disease-ridden.

But this is a good news story and if you haven’t sensed it, there’s a rising backlash against medical guidelines, mostly led by doctors, researchers and even some patients outraged at what they see going on. …

I don’t wish to generalize from the situation in the US to the situation in the UK. The medical systems and models are quite different but since at least some of my readership is from the US, I thought this digression might prove helpful. Regardless of where you live, it never hurts to ask questions.

Online art/science exhibit on stem cells and Canadians, Dr. Jim Till and Dr. Ernest McCulloch

Before getting to the exhibit, here’s some background information from Stacey Johnson’s July 22, 2016 posting on the Signals blog (Note: Links have been removed),

You would be hard-pressed to find a Canadian stem cell scientist who doesn’t know that Drs. Jim Till and Ernest McCulloch advanced medical research across the globe with their discovery, in 1961, of blood stem cells at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, today the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Recently, a group of artists, doctors, scientists and educators launched an art exhibit based on Till and McCulloch. The group, NASCENT Art Science Collective, created portraits of the two men, produced drawings and designed banners to honour these pioneers and their ground-breaking work.

You can find the show, The Protean SELF here. Before clicking on the link I encourage you to read Johnson’s piece in its entirety. Whether you choose to read it further or not, I highly (!) recommend that you scroll down the exhibit page or click on Interpretive Guide for Museum of Health Care before when viewing the images and text otherwise it will seem a hodgepodge. The guide was for the real life exhibit, which is over.

The guide won’t answer all your questions but will help greatly to contextualize the images and the text. For example,

Hanging in the main windows are two banners by Elizabeth Greisman. Elizabeth has been extending her work on stem cells, their discovery by Dr. James Till and the importance of “ah hah’ moments to the field of dance. Elizabeth has worked with the National Ballet – cross fertilization through this work has expanded her understanding of the two defining features of stem cells – the ability to regenerate and the ability to differentiate.

That description applies to this image (I believe),

Artist: Elizabeth Greisman

Artist: Elizabeth Greisman

It’s also very helpful for understanding why there’s a fair chunk text devoted to open access,

On entering the museum, you will find a banner with an original written piece by Dr. James Till, produced for this show. Dr. Till has become a tireless advocate for Open Access. His words speak for themselves.

Artist: Dr. James Till. Formatted by Wendy Wobeser

Artist: Dr. James Till. Formatted by Wendy Wobeser

Enjoy!

Replicating brain’s neural networks with 3D nanoprinting

An announcement about European Union funding for a project to reproduce neural networks by 3D nanoprinting can be found in a June 10, 2016 news item on Nanowerk,

The MESO-BRAIN consortium has received a prestigious award of €3.3million in funding from the European Commission as part of its Future and Emerging Technology (FET) scheme. The project aims to develop three-dimensional (3D) human neural networks with specific biological architecture, and the inherent ability to interrogate the network’s brain-like activity both electrophysiologically and optically. It is expected that the MESO-BRAIN will facilitate a better understanding of human disease progression, neuronal growth and enable the development of large-scale human cell-based assays to test the modulatory effects of pharmacological and toxicological compounds on neural network activity. The use of more physiologically relevant human models will increase drug screening efficiency and reduce the need for animal testing.

A June 9, 2016 Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

About the MESO-BRAIN project

The MESO-BRAIN project’s cornerstone will use human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that have been differentiated into neurons upon a defined and reproducible 3D scaffold to support the development of human neural networks that emulate brain activity. The structure will be based on a brain cortical module and will be unique in that it will be designed and produced using nanoscale 3D-laser-printed structures incorporating nano-electrodes to enable downstream electrophysiological analysis of neural network function. Optical analysis will be conducted using cutting-edge light sheet-based, fast volumetric imaging technology to enable cellular resolution throughout the 3D network. The MESO-BRAIN project will allow for a comprehensive and detailed investigation of neural network development in health and disease.

Prof Edik Rafailov, Head of the MESO-BRAIN project (Aston University) said: “What we’re proposing to achieve with this project has, until recently, been the stuff of science fiction. Being able to extract and replicate neural networks from the brain through 3D nanoprinting promises to change this. The MESO-BRAIN project has the potential to revolutionise the way we are able to understand the onset and development of disease and discover treatments for those with dementia or brain injuries. We cannot wait to get started!”

The MESO-BRAIN project will launch in September 2016 and research will be conducted over three years.

About the MESO-BRAIN consortium

Each of the consortium partners have been chosen for the highly specific skills & knowledge that they bring to this project. These include technologies and expertise in stem cells, photonics, physics, 3D nanoprinting, electrophysiology, molecular biology, imaging and commercialisation.

Aston University (UK) Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies (School of Engineering and Applied Science) is one of the largest photonic groups in UK and an internationally recognised research centre in the fields of lasers, fibre-optics, high-speed optical communications, nonlinear and biomedical photonics. The Cell & Tissue Biomedical Research Group (Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing) combines collective expertise in genetic manipulation, tissue engineering and neuronal modelling with the electrophysiological and optical analysis of human iPSC-derived neural networks. Axol Bioscience Ltd. (UK) was founded to fulfil the unmet demand for high quality, clinically relevant human iPSC-derived cells for use in biomedical research and drug discovery. The Laser Zentrum Hannover (Germany) is a leading research organisation in the fields of laser development, material processing, laser medicine, and laser-based nanotechnologies. The Neurophysics Group (Physics Department) at University of Barcelona (Spain) are experts in combing experiments with theoretical and computational modelling to infer functional connectivity in neuronal circuits. The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) (Spain) is a world-leading research centre in photonics with expertise in several microscopy techniques including light sheet imaging. KITE Innovation (UK) helps to bridge the gap between the academic and business sectors in supporting collaboration, enterprise, and knowledge-based business development.

For anyone curious about the FET funding scheme, there’s this from the press release,

Horizon 2020 aims to ensure Europe produces world-class science by removing barriers to innovation through funding programmes such as the FET. The FET (Open) funds forward-looking collaborations between advanced multidisciplinary science and cutting-edge engineering for radically new future technologies. The published success rate is below 1.4%, making it amongst the toughest in the Horizon 2020 suite of funding schemes. The MESO-BRAIN proposal scored a perfect 5/5.

You can find out more about the MESO-BRAIN project on its ICFO webpage.

They don’t say anything about it but I can’t help wondering if the scientists aren’t also considering the possibility of creating an artificial brain.

Cell-to-cell communication via nanotubes

It turns out that the cells communicating with each other are located in fruit flies. So, it’s perhaps not quite as exciting as one might have imagined, nonetheless, a July 1, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily provides some intriguing insights into cell communication,

When it comes to communicating with each other, some cells may be more “old school” than was previously thought.

Certain types of stem cells use microscopic, threadlike nanotubes to communicate with neighboring cells, like a landline phone connection, rather than sending a broadcast signal, researchers at University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have discovered.

The findings, which are scheduled for online publication July 1 in Nature, offer new insights on how stem cells retain their identities when they divide to split off a new, specialized cell.

The fruit-fly research also suggests that short-range, cell-to-cell communication may rely on this type of direct connection more than was previously understood, said co-senior author Yukiko Yamashita, a U-M developmental biologist whose lab is located at the Life Sciences Institute.

A July 1, 2015 University of Michigan news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“There are trillions of cells in the human body, but nowhere near that number of signaling pathways,” she said. “There’s a lot we don’t know about how the right cells get just the right messages to the right recipients at the right time.”

The nanotubes had actually been hiding in plain sight.

The investigation began when a postdoctoral researcher in Yamashita’s lab, Mayu Inaba, approached her mentor with questions about tiny threads of connection she noticed in an image of fruit fly reproductive stem cells, which are also known as germ line cells. The projections linked individual stem cells back to a central hub in the stem cell “niche.” Niches create a supportive environment for stem cells and help direct their activity.

Yamashita, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, MacArthur Fellow and an associate professor at the U-M Medical School, looked through her old image files and discovered that the connections appeared in numerous images.

“I had seen them, but I wasn’t seeing them,” Yamashita said. “They were like a little piece of dust on an otherwise normal picture. After we presented our findings at meetings, other scientists who work with the same cells would say, ‘We see them now, too.'”

It’s not surprising that the minute structures went overlooked for so long. Each one is about 3 micrometers long; by comparison, a piece of paper is 100 micrometers thick.

While the study looked specifically at reproductive cells in male Drosophila fruit flies, there have been indications of similar structures in other contexts, including mammalian cells, Yamashita said.

Fruit flies are an important model for this type of investigation, she added. If one was to start instead with human cells, one might find something, but the system’s greater complexity would make it far more difficult to tease apart the underlying mechanisms.

The findings shed new light on a key attribute of stem cells: their ability to make new specialized cells while still retaining their identity as stem cells.

Germ line stem cells typically divide asymmetrically. In the male fruit fly, when a stem cell divides, one part stays attached to the hub and remains a stem cell. The other part moves away from the hub and begins differentiation into a fly sperm cell.

Until the discovery of the nanotubes, scientists had been puzzled as to how cellular signals guiding identity could act on one of the cells but not the other, said collaborator Michael Buszczak, an associate professor of molecular biology at UT Southwestern, who shares corresponding authorship of the paper and currently co-mentors Inaba with Yamashita.

The researchers conducted experiments that showed disruption of nanotube formation compromised the ability of the germ line stem cells to renew themselves.

I gather the fruit fly research offers the basis for more extensive investigations into other species and their cell-to-cell communication.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Nanotubes mediate niche–stem-cell signalling in the Drosophila testis by Mayu Inaba, Michael Buszczak, & Yukiko M. Yamashita. Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14602 Published online 01 July 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nano and stem cell differentiation at Rutgers University (US)

A Nov. 14, 2014 news item on Azonano features a nanoparticle-based platform for differentiating stem cells,

Rutgers University Chemistry Associate Professor Ki-Bum Lee has developed patent-pending technology that may overcome one of the critical barriers to harnessing the full therapeutic potential of stem cells.

A Nov. 1, 2104 Rutgers University news release, which originated the news item, describes the challenge in more detail,

One of the major challenges facing researchers interested in regenerating cells and growing new tissue to treat debilitating injuries and diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and spinal cord trauma, is creating an easy, effective, and non-toxic methodology to control differentiation into specific cell lineages. Lee and colleagues at Rutgers and Kyoto University in Japan have invented a platform they call NanoScript, an important breakthrough for researchers in the area of gene expression. Gene expression is the way information encoded in a gene is used to direct the assembly of a protein molecule, which is integral to the process of tissue development through stem cell therapeutics.

Stem cells hold great promise for a wide range of medical therapeutics as they have the ability to grow tissue throughout the body. In many tissues, stem cells have an almost limitless ability to divide and replenish other cells, serving as an internal repair system.

Transcription factor (TF) proteins are master regulators of gene expression. TF proteins play a pivotal role in regulating stem cell differentiation. Although some have tried to make synthetic molecules that perform the functions of natural transcription factors, NanoScript is the first nanomaterial TF protein that can interact with endogenous DNA. …

“Our motivation was to develop a highly robust, efficient nanoparticle-based platform that can regulate gene expression and eventually stem cell differentiation,” said Lee, who leads a Rutgers research group primarily focused on developing and integrating nanotechnology with chemical biology to modulate signaling pathways in cancer and stem cells. “Because NanoScript is a functional replica of TF proteins and a tunable gene-regulating platform, it has great potential to do exactly that. The field of stem cell biology now has another platform to regulate differentiation while the field of nanotechnology has demonstrated for the first time that we can regulate gene expression at the transcriptional level.”

Here’s an image illustrating NanoScript and gold nanoparticles,

Courtesy Rutgers University

Courtesy Rutgers University

The news release goes on to describe the platform’s use of gold nanoparticles,

NanoScript was constructed by tethering functional peptides and small molecules called synthetic transcription factors, which mimic the individual TF domains, onto gold nanoparticles.

“NanoScript localizes within the nucleus and initiates transcription of a reporter plasmid by up to 30-fold,” said Sahishnu Patel, Rutgers Chemistry graduate student and co-author of the ACS Nano publication. “NanoScript can effectively transcribe targeted genes on endogenous DNA in a nonviral manner.”

Lee said the next step for his research is to study what happens to the gold nanoparticles after NanoScript is utilized, to ensure no toxic effects arise, and to ensure the effectiveness of NanoScript over long periods of time.

“Due to the unique tunable properties of NanoScript, we are highly confident this platform not only will serve as a desirable alternative to conventional gene-regulating methods,” Lee said, “but also has direct employment for applications involving gene manipulation such as stem cell differentiation, cancer therapy, and cellular reprogramming. Our research will continue to evaluate the long-term implications for the technology.”

Lee, originally from South Korea, joined the Rutgers faculty in 2008 and has earned many honors including the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award. Lee received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Northwestern University where he studied with Professor Chad. A. Mirkin, a pioneer in the coupling of nanotechnology and biomolecules. Lee completed his postdoctoral training at The Scripps Research Institute with Professor Peter G. Schultz. Lee has served as a Visiting Scholar at both Princeton University and UCLA Medical School.

The primary interest of Lee’s group is to develop and integrate nanotechnologies and chemical functional genomics to modulate signaling pathways in mammalian cells towards specific cell lineages or behaviors. He has published more than 50 articles and filed for 17 corresponding patents.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

NanoScript: A Nanoparticle-Based Artificial Transcription Factor for Effective Gene Regulation by Sahishnu Patel, Dongju Jung, Perry T. Yin, Peter Carlton, Makoto Yamamoto, Toshikazu Bando, Hiroshi Sugiyama, and Ki-Bum Lee. ACS Nano, 2014, 8 (9), pp 8959–8967 DOI: 10.1021/nn501589f Publication Date (Web): August 18, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Wonders of curcumin: wound healing; wonders of aromatic-turmerone: stem cells

Both curcumin and turmerone are constituents of turmeric which has been long lauded for its healing properties. Michael Berger has written a Nanowerk Spotlight article featuring curcumin and some recent work on burn wound healing. Meanwhile, a ScienceDaily news item details information about a team of researchers focused on tumerone as a means for regenerating brain stem cells.

Curcumin and burn wounds

In a Sept. 22, 2014 Nanowerk Spotlight article Michael Berger sums up the curcumin research effort (referencing some of this previous articles on the topic) in light of a new research paper about burn wound healing (Note: Links have been removed),

Despite significant progress in medical treatments of severe burn wounds, infection and subsequent sepsis persist as frequent causes of morbidity and mortality for burn victims. This is due not only to the extensive compromise of the protective barrier against microbial invasion, but also as a result of growing pathogen resistance to therapeutic options.

… Dr Adam Friedman, Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Director of Dermatologic research at the Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells Nanowerk. “For me, this gap fuels innovation, serving as the inspiration for my research with broad-spectrum, multi-mechanistic antimicrobial nanomaterials.”

In new work, Friedman and a team of researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Oregon State University have explored the use of curcumin nanoparticles for the treatment of infected burn wounds, an application that resulted in reduced bacterial load and enhancing wound healing.

It certainly seems promising as per the article abstract,

Curcumin-encapsulated nanoparticles as innovative antimicrobial and wound healing agent by Aimee E. Krausz, Brandon L. Adler, Vitor Cabral, Mahantesh Navati, Jessica Doerner, Rabab Charafeddine, Dinesh Chandra, Hongying Liang, Leslie Gunther, Alicea Clendaniel, Stacey Harper, Joel M. Friedman, Joshua D. Nosanchuk, & Adam J. Friedman. Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine (article in press) published online 19 September 2014.http://www.nanomedjournal.com/article/S1549-9634%2814%2900527-9/abstract Uncorrected Proof

Burn wounds are often complicated by bacterial infection, contributing to morbidity and mortality. Agents commonly used to treat burn wound infection are limited by toxicity, incomplete microbial coverage, inadequate penetration, and rising resistance. Curcumin is a naturally derived substance with innate antimicrobial and wound healing properties. Acting by multiple mechanisms, curcumin is less likely than current antibiotics to select for resistant bacteria.

Curcumin’s poor aqueous solubility and rapid degradation profile hinder usage; nanoparticle encapsulation overcomes this pitfall and enables extended topical delivery of curcumin.

In this study, we synthesized and characterized curcumin nanoparticles (curc-np), which inhibited in vitro growth of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in dose-dependent fashion, and inhibited MRSA growth and enhanced wound healing in an in vivo murine wound model. Curc-np may represent a novel topical antimicrobial and wound healing adjuvant for infected burn wounds and other cutaneous injuries.

Two things: This paper is behind a paywall and note the use of the term ‘in vivo’ which means they have tested on animals such as rats and mice for example, but not humans. Nonetheless, it seems a promising avenue for further exploration.

Interestingly, there was an attempt in 1995 to patent turmeric for use in wound healing as per my Dec. 26, 2011 posting which featured then current research on turmeric,

There has already been one court case regarding a curcumin patent,

Recently, turmeric came into the global limelight when the controversial patent “Use of Turmeric in Wound Healing” was awarded, in 1995, to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, USA. Indian Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) aggressively contested this award of the patent. It was argued by them that turmeric has been an integral part of the traditional Indian medicinal system over several centuries, and therefore, is deemed to be ‘prior art’, hence is in the public domain. Subsequently, after protracted technical/legal battle USPTO decreed that turmeric is an Indian discovery and revoked the patent.

One last bit about curcumin, my April 22, 2014 posting featured work in Iran using curcumin for cancer-healing.

Tumerone

This excerpt from a Sept. 25, 2014, news item in ScienceDaily represents the first time that tumerone has been mentioned here,

A bioactive compound found in turmeric promotes stem cell proliferation and differentiation in the brain, reveals new research published today in the open access journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy. The findings suggest aromatic turmerone could be a future drug candidate for treating neurological disorders, such as stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

A Sept. 25, 2014 news release on EurekAlert provides more information,

The study looked at the effects of aromatic (ar-) turmerone on endogenous neutral stem cells (NSC), which are stem cells found within adult brains. NSC differentiate into neurons, and play an important role in self-repair and recovery of brain function in neurodegenerative diseases. Previous studies of ar-turmerone have shown that the compound can block activation of microglia cells. When activated, these cells cause neuroinflammation, which is associated with different neurological disorders. However, ar-turmerone’s impact on the brain’s capacity to self-repair was unknown.

Researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Jülich, Germany, studied the effects of ar-turmerone on NSC proliferation and differentiation both in vitro and in vivo. Rat fetal NSC were cultured and grown in six different concentrations of ar-turmerone over a 72 hour period. At certain concentrations, ar-turmerone was shown to increase NSC proliferation by up to 80%, without having any impact on cell death. The cell differentiation process also accelerated in ar-turmerone-treated cells compared to untreated control cells.

To test the effects of ar-turmerone on NSC in vivo, the researchers injected adult rats with ar-turmerone. Using PET imaging and a tracer to detect proliferating cells, they found that the subventricular zone (SVZ) was wider, and the hippocampus expanded, in the brains of rats injected with ar-turmerone than in control animals. The SVZ and hippocampus are the two sites in adult mammalian brains where neurogenesis, the growth of neurons, is known to occur.

Lead author of the study, Adele Rueger, said: “While several substances have been described to promote stem cell proliferation in the brain, fewer drugs additionally promote the differentiation of stem cells into neurons, which constitutes a major goal in regenerative medicine. Our findings on aromatic turmerone take us one step closer to achieving this goal.”

Ar-turmerone is the lesser-studied of two major bioactive compounds found in turmeric. The other compound is curcumin, which is well known for its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Aromatic-turmerone induces neural stem cell proliferation in vitro and in vivo by Joerg Hucklenbroich, Rebecca Klein, Bernd Neumaier, Rudolf Graf, Gereon Rudolf Fink, Michael Schroeter, and Maria Adele Rueger. Stem Cell Research & Therapy 2014, 5:100  doi:10.1186/scrt500

This is an open access paper.