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article imageNew technology manipulates cells for disease research

By Tim Sandle     Aug 7, 2017 in Science
A new method for altering the path and direction of cells has been developed by Northwestern University. The aim is to develop stem cell therapies for spinal cord injuries, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease.
The new research has been developed by a team led by Dr. Samuel I. Stupp, who is the director of Northwestern University’s Simpson Querrey Institute for BioNanotechnology. The researcher is also Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Chemistry, Medicine and Biomedical Engineering.
The new technology centers on the way that cells behave in the human body. Our cells are continually being signaled with various instructions, triggered by proteins and other molecules that are located in the matrices that surround them. As an example, such signals can be cues for cells to express specific genes in order for the cells to differentiate into other types of cells. Such a development is important for growth or regeneration of tissues.
This sophisticated, biological signaling machinery has the pre-programmed capacity to make signals stop and re-start as needed; or to switch off one signal and activate an alternative signal in order to commence a complex processes. If this could be controlled by medics, then the process of addressing a range of diseases could be achieved. So far, the ability to produce such regenerative therapies has proved impossible.
This could be set to change with the development of a synthetic material that can trigger reversibly certain types of signaling. This platform could lead to materials to control stem cells in order to produce regenerative therapies and to control cellular functions.
The new technology should help with research into treatments for such diseases as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, problems with arthritic joints, spinal cord injuries, the effects of stroke, and other conditions requiring tissue regeneration.
In trials, the researchers have taken spinal cord neural stem cells (neurospheres) and driven them to differentiate using a signal, helping the scientists to understand developmental and regenerative cues. This cell manipulation technology could help control which cells change and thereby address diseases like Parkinson’s, such as converting a patient’s own skin cells into stem cells.
Commenting on the implications of the technology, Dr. Stupp said, in a communication provided to Digital Journal: “It’s important in the context of cell therapies for people to cure these diseases or regenerate tissues that are no longer functional.”
The research is an example of the use of digital based bio-nanotechnology. The technology has been published in the journal Nature Communications. The paper “Instructing cells with programmable peptide DNA hybrids.”
More about Pathology, Disease, Cells, Parkinson's Disease
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