Stem cells trapped in hydrogel better at bone repair

A representation of stem cells trapped in a hydrogel material--Courtesy of UR

By encasing regenerative stems cells in a hydrophilic polymer, researchers at the University of Rochester were able to prevent them from leaving the repair site early, thereby speeding up the healing process.

The delivery of stem cells encased in a hydrogel has been used to help fix other tissue types, but the method is a first for bone tissue repair.

"Our success opens the door for many--and more complicated--types of bone repair," assistant professor of biomedical engineering Danielle Benoit said in the news release. "For example, we should now be able to pinpoint repairs within the periosteum--or outer membrane of bone material."

Currently, stem cells are injected directly into bone tissue without any protective substance to shield them from the body's immune system, which sees them as foreign agents, the announcement says.

Normally, stem cells migrate from repair sites inside the body due to blood flow and other factors. In contrast, the team found that stem cells encased in a hydrogel displayed similar concentrations both in vivo and in vitro. By staying at the repair site, the stem cells are able to generate more new bone tissue.

And by modifying the hydrogels, the researchers successfully controlled the amount of time it took for the polymers to dissolve, allowing for the customization of stem cell behavior based on specific needs and circumstances.

Benoit thinks that given enough time and research, degradable hydrogels could help regenerate tissue after a heart attack, among other clinical applications.

- read the announcement
- get the research article