Silly Putty Ingredient Could Help Stem Cells Become Motor Neurons

April 14, 2014

Image Caption: University of Michigan researchers have found that mechanical forces in the environment of human embryonic stem cells influences how they differentiate, or morph into the body's different cell types. To arrive at the findings, they cultured the stem cells on ultrafine carpets made of microscopic posts of a key ingredient in Silly Putty. Credit: Ye Tao, Rose Anderson, Yubing Sun, and Jianping Fu

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports Your Universe Online

An ingredient found in Silly Putty could help scientists more efficiently turn human embryonic stem cells into fully functional specialized cells, according to research published online Sunday in the journal Nature Materials.

In the study, researchers from the University of Michigan report how they were able to coax stem cells to turn into working spinal cord cells by growing them on a soft, extremely fine carpet in which the threads were created from polydimethylsiloxane, one component of the popular childrens toy.

According to the authors, the paper is the first to directly link physical signals to human embryonic stem cell differentiation, which is the process by which source cells morph into one of the bodys 200-plus other types of cells that go on to become muscles, bones, nerves or organs.

Furthermore, their research increases the possibility that scientists will be able to uncover a more efficient way to guide differentiation in stem cells, potentially resulting in new treatment options for Alzheimers disease, ALS, Huntingtons disease or similar conditions, assistant professor of mechanical engineering Jianping Fu and his colleagues explained in a statement.

This is extremely exciting, said Fu. To realize promising clinical applications of human embryonic stem cells, we need a better culture system that can reliably produce more target cells that function well. Our approach is a big step in that direction, by using synthetic microengineered surfaces to control mechanical environmental signals.

He and his University of Michigan colleagues designed a specially engineered growth system in which polydimethylsiloxane served as the threads, and they discovered that by varying the height of the posts, they were able to alter the stiffness of the surface upon which the cells were grown.

Shorter posts were more rigid, while the taller ones were softer. On the taller ones, the stem cells that were grown morphed into nerve cells more often and more quickly than they did on the shorter ones. After a period of three weeks and two days, colonies of spinal cord cells that grew on the softer micropost carpets were four times more pure and 10 times larger than those growing on rigid ones, the study authors noted.

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Silly Putty Ingredient Could Help Stem Cells Become Motor Neurons

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