Archive for the ‘Mesenchymal Stem Cells’ Category

Cooking with Stem Cells

August 11th, 2013

On August 5, 2013, a “lab-grown,” 5-ounce burger patty was taste tested in London, U.K. The patty had been grown from muscle stem cells that were isolated from cows. While this piece of “meat,” which was said to have tasted “close to meat,” represents significant progress in the field of making lab-grown food, the current approach needs to be improved before widespread use is feasible; the patty cost over $330,000 to make (not to mention probably significant culturing time in the lab to generate the 20,000 muscle strands used to make the patty). Luckily, there are many avenues that can be explored to optimize this technology. To understand them, it’s important to first understand the muscle stem cells themselves and how they’re cultured.

(Video credit: The Washington Post)

Origins of Muscle Stem Cells:
During development, the embryo has three different tissue types that, together with the germ cells, will make up the animal’s entire body. These are called the three germ layers. One of these tissue types, specifically the mesoderm, develops into skeletal muscle cells (along with other cell types, including cardiac muscle, kidney cells, red blood cells, and smooth muscle). Some stem cells that have been isolated from muscle appear to be mesenchymal stem cells. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) got their name because they’re thought to primarily contain progenitors in the mesenchyme, which is a collection of cells mostly derived from mesoderm. (The majority of these cells later make up supportive structures throughout the body, such as bone, cartilage, connective tissue, muscle, adipose tissue, and the lymphatic and hematopoietic systems.) MSCs are typically multipotent, which means they can differentiate, or turn into, multiple different cell types. Specifically, MSCs are usually confirmed to be MSCs by showing that they can differentiate into three different, standard mesenchymal cell types: osteocytes (bone), chondrocytes (cartilage), and adipocytes (fat).

In muscle, there are two main groups of stem cells: satellite cells and muscle-derived stem cells (MDSCs) (Jankowski et al., 2002). Satellite cells were discovered decades ago (Mauro, 1961) and are commonly simply (and perhaps confusingly) referred to as muscle stem cells. It’s thought that these cells can regenerate damaged skeletal muscle and self-renew, but their ability to differentiate is rather limited; they can only make other types of muscle cells. (They’re basically unipotent.) MDSCs, on the other hand, are thought to be a type of multipotent mesenchymal stem cell and possibly a precursor of the satellite cells. But not only can the MDSCs differentiate into mesenchymal cell types, they have been found capable of becoming non-mesenchymal cell types as well. However, when picking the right stem cells to use for making lab-grown meat, the ability to differentiate into many different cell types is, for once, not an appealing trait.
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Bioengineering Organs and Tissues with Stem Cells: Recent Breakthroughs

October 11th, 2009

While there is great potential for using stem cells in regenerative therapies, there is still a ways to go before it can be considered a proven practice, although recent breakthroughs, and one specific trial in particular, makes it seem much closer. Recently, the first human tissue-engineered organ using stem cells was created and transplanted successfully into a patient. Other tissue regeneration efforts with stem cells have also recently made many breakthroughs, emphasizing the potential of using stem cells in future tissue transplants.

In the first reported instance of using stem cells to bioengineer a functional human organ, Paolo Macchiarini and his research group used a patient’s own stem cells to generate an airway, specifically a bronchus, and successfully grafted it into the patient to replace her damaged bronchus (See Figure 1). Macchiarini’s group bypassed the problem of immune rejection by using the patient’s own stem cells. Additionally, by combining a variety of bioengineering efforts, no synthetic parts were involved in the creation of the organ; it was made entirely of cadaveric and patient-derived tissues (Macchiarini et al., 2008; Hollander et al., 2009).


Figure 1. In order to create a patient-compatible replacement bronchus, Macchiarini’s group removed and decellularized a trachea from a cadaveric donor, grew cells removed from the patient on the trachea in a bioreactor, and then transplanted the bioengineered airway into the patient, successfully replacing their defective bronchus (Macchiarini et al., 2008).

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Limb Regeneration May Require Less Potent Stem Cells Than Previously Thought

August 15th, 2009

Salamanders have the amazing ability to re-grow a limb after it has been cut off. It is thought that by better understanding this regenerative ability, researchers will be able to apply this knowledge to humans and improve wound healing. Recently it was reported that salamander limb regeneration may occur in a different way than was previously thought; in short, the severed limb may not need pluripotent stem cells to regenerate, as was believed, but only multipotent or unipotent stem cells, stem cells with relatively restricted fates.

In salamanders, when a limb is severed the resultant limb bud undergoes a distinct process to regenerate the lost limb. The epithelial layer quickly spreads across the amputation site, closing the wound within 24 hours (Mescher, 1996). This epithelial layer thickens and becomes what is referred to as the wound epithelium (WE). As the immune system responds to the injury, macrophages and neutrophils arrive to clean up the wound site beneath the WE. The existing injured tissues and cells are broken down as well as the extracellular matrix, which is made up of proteins that surround cells to hold them together and stimulate normal cellular functions. It was thought that at this time in the regenerative process other resident cells below the WE become multipotent mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) (see Figure). These eventually form a mass of MSCs called a blastema (Mescher, 1996; Brockes and Kumar, 2005). The blastema was thought to contain a homogenous group of pluripotent stem cells that had “dedifferentiated” or “redifferentiated,” meaning they had reverted back from their committed fates to function as very potent stem cells in order to recreate the limb. The WE stimulates the cells in the blastema to proliferate, making new cells and extracellular matrix, though more than is required for simple repair; the WE signals the blastema cells to regenerate the entire lost limb (Mescher, 1996; Kragl et al., 2009).


Limb regeneration in the salamander after limb amputation (time course going from the top down). Shortly after the limb is amputated, the epithelium layer covers the exposed limb bud, forming the wound epithelium (WE). A group of stem cells collects below this layer, forming the blastema (at the tip of the bud). The WE signals the stem cells below it to rebuild the limb, recreating the limb from the point of injury out towards the hand. The final regenerated limb is indistinguishable from the original.

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Mesenchymal Stem Cells: A Diverse Family, Large and Still Growing

March 15th, 2009

Perhaps containing more different cell types than any other stem cell category, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be isolated from a wide variety of tissues in the human body. These cells have been grouped and labeled as “mesenchymal” because they are thought to have a common progenitor in the mesenchyme, an embryonic tissue (Caplan, 2005). In the developing vertebrate embryo, there are three distinct “germ layers,” or layers of cells: the endoderm, the mesoderm, and the ectoderm. Together with the germ cells, these three layers pattern out the entire body (see figure). The mesenchyme is a collection of cells mostly derived from the mesoderm that later becomes supportive structures throughout the body, including bone, cartilage, connective tissue, smooth muscle, adipose tissue, as well as the lymphatic and hematopoietic systems. Most MSCs are thought to contain progenitors in the mesenchyme (Gilbert, 2003; Conrad et al., 2009; Caplan, 2005).


The endoderm layer later becomes skin (epidermis) and the nervous system, the ectoderm becomes the digestive tract and respiratory system, and the mesoderm becomes bone, blood, muscles, connective tissue, and several organs (heart, kidney, and gonads).

However, calling MSCs “mesenchymal” can be misleading. Because this term refers to a precursor of the large MSC family, it is referring to an embryonic tissue, though the descendant MSCs can be found in both fetal and adult tissues. MSCs have been isolated from adult muscle, bone marrow, adipose tissue, cartilage, bone, potentially teeth (Caplan, 2005) as well as some fetal tissues (fetal liver, lung, amniotic fluid, and umbilical cord) (Phinney and Prockop, 2007). The MSCs isolated from any one of these tissues are multipotent and are usually shown to be MSCs by being able to differentiate into at least three different, standard mesenchymal cell types: osteocytes (bone), chondrocytes (cartilage), and adipocytes (fat) (Baksh et al., 2004). There is much evidence, though somewhat inconsistent, showing that MSCs can also differentiate into neuronal cells, which may be from mesenchyme derived from the endoderm instead of the mesoderm (Gilbert, 2003; Phinney and Prockop, 2007). Overall, MSC differentiation potentials can vary depending on what mesenchyme-derived tissue the MSCs were harvested from (Phinney and Prockop, 2007). However, MSCs cannot become hematopoietic cells (which are derived from hematopoietic stem cells), even though these cells are derived from the mesenchyme, making the label “mesenchymal” more deceptive (Gilbert, 2003; Caplan, 2005).

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