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Nano Patterns in Plastic Help Stem Cells Become Bone Cells

Human embryonic stem cell colony (Clay Glennon/Univ of Wisconsin-Madison, NIGMS)

Human embryonic stem cell colony (Clay Glennon/Univ of Wisconsin-Madison, NIGMS)

Medical researchers and engineers at universities of Southampton and Glasgow in the U.K. created a nanoscale process with a common plastic material to convert human embryonic stem cells into skeletal tissue cells. The findings of the team led by Southampton’s Richard Oreffo are described online in a recent issue of the journal Small (paid subscription required).

Oreffo and colleagues sought a simpler and less expensive method for transforming embryonic stem cells into bone tissue as potential therapies for repairing fractures or to treat conditions such as osteoporosis. In particular, they sought an alternative to current methods that involve chemically enhancing the stem cells to increase yields, but often have limited effectiveness.

Their process adopted a technique developed at Glasgow where nanoscale patterns etched on a polycarbonate plastic surface induce the stem cells to differentiate into human tissue. Some of the same researchers took part in an earlier Southampton-Glasgow collaboration that cultured mesenchymal (adult bone marrow) stem cells with this technique. The current study expanded the technique to embryonic stem cells.

Polycarbonates are an established and widely used plastic material, found in such products as bulletproof windows, break resistant lenses, and compact discs. The Glasgow process etches 120-nanometer pits into the surface of the plastic that the 2011 research showed was effective in inducing stem cells to grow and spread while retaining their stem cell characteristics.

Human embryonic stem cells incubated on these nanoscale etched surfaces show more generation of precursor skeletal tissue cells than identical stem cells on smooth polycarbonate surfaces. These changes from stem to early tissue cells on the etched surfaces also resemble the changes that take place with chemical enhancement.

“Our research may offer a whole new approach to skeletal regenerative medicine,” says Oreffo. “The use of nanotopographical patterns could enable new cell culture designs, new device designs, and could herald the development of new bone repair therapies as well as further human stem cell research.”

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Typo errors corrected, 12 February 2013

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