A gel that mimics the stiffness of the human body could be the key to growing human stem cells in a simpler way, say researchers from The University of Western Australia.
The international research team was led by UWA’s Dr Yu Suk Choi.
“Stem cells work by using the ‘stiffness’ of surrounding tissue as a gauge to identify the way they need to behave in a particular environment in the human body,” Dr Choi said.
“By using hydrogel to mimic the stiffness of tissue, we found we could ‘trick’ the stem cells into behaving in particular ways to help them grow and encourage the cells to behave in positive, regenerative ways.”
He said the research may have important uses in combating serious illnesses affecting the human population.
“Many degenerative diseases result in changes to tissue stiffness which alters the behaviour of cells,” he said.
“But by controlling tissue stiffness we can revert cells’ behaviour back to normal and change their behaviour at the disease site into more regenerative behaviour. This will help us to treat diseases such as cancer that are currently very difficult to treat.”
Dr Choi pointed out that hydrogel is simple and inexpensive to produce. It could also be used in biology labs that don’t have the infrastructure to aid stem cell growth.
The next step for the researchers will be to use hydrogel with patient-originated cells to further understand the effect of tissue stiffness on cell behaviour.
Research to help combat serious diseases with stem cells is only possible if we support our universities. To keep Australia clever, please sign the petition below.