The development of an Adult Stem Cells (ASCs) treatment came closer to becoming a reality after researchers at the University of Manchester found a messaging system that can instruct ASCs to start repairing damaged tissue.
Professor Cay Kielty, who headed the study, asserted that the discovery holds great hope for the development of techniques by which ASCs could be instructed to repair damaged tissues.
ASCs have potential for therapeutic use and avoid many of the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells. Now there's a need to have a better understanding of the mechanism by which ASCs can be controlled based on signalling systems that normally give instructions within the body. This understanding may in future be applied to the generation of cells for transplant.
For the study, the researchers focussed on stem cells that are found in human bone marrow called mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), having the ability to relocate and develop into different types of cells and tissue and are very promising as a source of cells for transplant in tissue repair.
Not only do they offer the potential for customized treatments derived from a person's own cells, MSCs are unlikely to trigger a severe immune response, and may be suitable for "off-the-shelf" treatments for tissue repair.
This research mainly focuses on the details of a messaging system that leads to the development of blood vessels from MSCs in the body. This system is called 'PDGF receptor signalling'. In PDGF receptor signalling, receptors on the surface of the MSCs receive messages in the form of molecules that are involved in directing human growth and development - 'growth factors'.
The researchers found that there is a complex messaging system that relays and coordinates the signals from certain growth factors to the MSCs, which triggers the development of new blood vessels. This involves cooperation between two types of receptor called 'PDGF receptor' and 'neuropilin-1' that respond to growth factors called PDGF and VEGF-A arriving at the cell surface, as well as sensing close proximity to other cells that make up the blood vessel.
While they offer insights into the use of ASCs for tissue repair therapies, a better knowledge of how blood vessels develop is also crucial to understanding and treating a huge range of diseases such as cancer, diabetic retinopathy and cardiovascular disease.
"What we have shown is that adult stem cells respond in particular ways to some of the chemical signals in the body. The next stage will be to understand how this messaging system regulates relocation of the MSCs and instructs them to become blood vessel cells. After that, we can look at applying our understanding to develop stem-cell derived therapies for tissue repair," said Professor Kielty.
The study was presented at the UK National Stem Cell Network Annual Science Meeting in Edinburgh.