These are the cells on a single thread, where green cells represent those that are dividing  (Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute)
hMSCs could repair damaged cardiac tissue after a heart attack

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers may have found a way to repair cardiac muscle that has been damaged by a heart attack through the development of a new technology capable of delivering stem cells directly to damaged tissue within the body. 

Glenn Gaudette, lead author of the study and assistant professor of biomedical engineering at WPI, along with George Pins, associate professor of biomedical engineering at WPI, and a team of researchers, have developed a new technology that has the potential to aid in the repair of damaged cardiac tissue (as well as other tissue) after a heart attack

Prior to Gaudette and Pins' study, injecting human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs), which come from adult bone marrow, into the heart muscle or bloodstream resulted poorly, with 15 percent or less of the cells actually attaching to heart muscle or even surviving. Many of the injected hMSCs are washed away by the bloodstream. 

But now, WPI researchers have developed a biopolymer microthread technology that could deliver these hMSCs directly to damaged heart tissue. The microthreads are made of fibrin, which is a protein that assists in blood clotting, and can be engineered to acquire different tensile strengths and to dissolve at various rates once implanted. This makes it easier to adjust the threads for several different uses. 

Gaudette and Pins used small bundles of the fibrin microthreads to seed hMSCs, where the stem cells would attach to the threads. Once attached, the hMSCs were cultured for five days. According to the study, the stem cells started multiplying and eventually covered the two-centimeter-long threads completely. There were approximately 10,000 hMSCs on each one. 

Once the seeding and growing process was complete, the microthreads were attached to a surgical needle and drawn through a collagen gel. This gel stimulated the human tissue, keeping the stem cells both alive and attached to the threads. This result suggests that the cells could be sutured into human tissue. 

"We're pleased with the progress of this work," said Gaudette. "This technology is developing into a potentially powerful system for delivering therapeutic cells right to where they are needed, whether that's a damaged heart or other tissues."

In addition to repairing damaged hearts, Gaudette and his team tested to see if the stem cells still had the ability to grow into other kinds of cells as well. To do this, they took the stem cells off of the threads and used established protocols to culture them and prompt them to differentiate into bone cells and fat cells. As it turns out, the cells were able to differentiate into both. 

"It appears that the cells we grew on the threads behave the same way we would expect mesenchymal stem cells would in vivo," said Gaudette. "So we believe these results are proof-of-principle - that we can now deliver these cells anywhere a surgeon can place a suture. That's exciting."

Gaudette and his team are now testing the biopolymer microthread technology on a rat model. Also, Pins is looking to use the microthreads to create replacement ligaments and tendons.

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