Stem cells, which have the ability to become various other types of cells, are at the heart of the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine – if a patient’s stem cells could be raised outside of their body, and their growth dictated, they could ultimately be used to grow replacement body parts that wouldn’t be rejected.
It’s challenging, however, to create sufficient growing conditions in a petri dish. In order for stem cells to grow and differentiate within the body, they rely on chemical, mechanical and electrical cues. Although chemical cues have been combined with mechanical or electrical cues in lab settings, no one has so far been able to combine all three… at least, not until now.
The triple play was achieved by a class of bioengineering undergraduate students at the University of California, San Diego, in the Jacobs School of Engineering. “We mimicked all these cues that the native environment provides to the cells,” said Prof. Shyni Varghese, who advised the students. “This work is therefore fundamental to creating more life-like environments for stem cells in order to steer stem cells toward specific cell types such as chondrocytes, osteoblasts, myoblasts or cardiomyocytes.”