Human embryonic stem cells © Nissim Benvenisty

Scientists at Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) have succeeded in developing a matrix material which supports the differentiation of human stem cells into fat or bone cells.

There are all-round high hopes for the emerging field of regenerative medicine. Scientists envision growing cells, tissues, even whole organs out of stem cells to replace their failing counterparts inside patients. Stem cells have the potential to develop into different types of body cell, but getting them to do so in a petri dish is extremely difficult, because conditions are completely different to how they are inside our bodies.

Attention is now focused on the role of extracellular matrix (ECM). This is the chemical environment that surrounds a cell in its natural setting inside the body. The ECM influences the way stem cells develop by providing external signals that ‘tell’ them what type of cell to become. Recreating the ECM is fraught with problems as it is so complex, and constantly changes depending on the cell’s stage of development.

Now, a research team at NIMS’s Tissue Regeneration Materials Unit has succeeded in fabricating two types of cell matrix materials that mimic the dynamically changing ECM during stem cell differentiation. The artificial matrices successfully support human stem cells while they differentiate into either bone or fat cells.

In the future, these kinds of matrix materials are expected to help scientists discover how the ECM controls stem cell differentiation. Ultimately, the aim is to use them for the production of cells for medical applications.

For further information contact:

Dr Guoping Chen
Tissue Regeneration Materials Unit
National Institute for Materials Science, Japan