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Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Stem-cell nursery

Stem-cell therapies are often touted as the future of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. But one of the challenges to developing such therapies is creating an environment in which stem cells can grow. An additional hurdle involves designing a vehicle to deliver stem cells to their target, without being detected by the body's immune system. Now scientists at Northwestern University have engineered a "miniature laboratory" in the form of a tiny, gel-like sac. They successfully grew stem cells within the sac, delivering proteins and nutrients to the cells through the sac's membrane. Researchers say that the sac may act as a delivery system for stem cells and other drugs, shielding them until they reach their target. Samuel Stupp, lead researcher and board of trustees professor of materials science and engineering, chemistry, and medicine at Northwestern, says that the discovery may have promising applications in cell therapy and regenerative medicine.

"You could transplant these sacs inside a patient," says Stupp. "And in the sac, the cells would be protected, until they get more established in an organ or tissue. Then the sac should be able to biodegrade."

The team developed the sac after months of mixing various molecular solutions together.

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