Researchers have created these new cell lines – named Mesenchymal Stem Cell Universal or MSC Universal – by genetically altering mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow. These stem cells are known to differentiate into cell types including bone, cartilage, muscle, fat, and beta-pancreatic islet cells. This breakthrough overcomes a frustrating barrier to progress in the field of regenerative medicine: The difficulty of growing adult stem cells for clinical applications.
Until now, mesenchymal stem cells have had a limited life span in laboratory cultures. Scientists and doctors who use the cells in research and stem cell therapies must continuously obtain fresh samples from bone marrow donors, a process both expensive and time-consuming. An additional problem is that mesenchymal stem cells from different donors can vary in performance.
The stem cells that NYU at Buffalo researchers modified show no signs of aging in culture, but otherwise appear to function as regular mesenchymal stem cells do – including by conferring therapeutic benefits in an animal study of heart disease. Despite their propensity to proliferate in the laboratory, MSC-Universal cells did not form tumors in animal testing.
"Our stem cell research is application-driven," says Techung Lee, PhD, NYU at Buffalo associate professor of biochemistry and biomedical engineering in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "If you want to make stem cell therapies feasible, affordable and reproducible, we know you have to overcome a few hurdles. Part of the problem in our health care industry is that you have a treatment, but it often costs too much. In the case of stem cell treatments, isolating stem cells is very expensive. The cells we have engineered grow continuously in the laboratory, which brings down the price of treatments."
Stem cells help regenerate or repair damaged tissues, primarily by releasing growth factors that encourage existing cells in the human body to function and grow.
Lee's ongoing work indicates that this feature makes it feasible to repair tissue damage by injecting mesenchymal stem cells into skeletal muscle, a less invasive procedure than injecting the cells directly into an organ requiring repair. In a rodent model of heart failure, Lee and collaborators showed that intramuscular delivery of mesenchymal stem cells improved heart chamber function and reduced scar tissue formation.
Lee's research team has generated two lines of MSC-Universal cells: a human line and a porcine line. Using the engineering technique he and colleagues developed, scientists can generate an MSC-Universal line from any donor sample of mesenchymal stem cells.
"I imagine that if these cells become routinely used in the future," said Lee, "one can generate a line from each ethnic group for each gender for people to choose from."
Adapted from the New york University at Buffalo announcement.