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New method for label-free identification of stem cells.

SINGAPORE, October 8, 2014--A team of scientists and engineers at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) have invented a new technique to identify populations of rare stem cells from bone marrow based on their different combinations of biophysical characteristics such as cell size, cell stiffness and nucleus deformation.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a type of cell that resides in the bone marrow, can differentiate into cells that produce bone, cartilage, fat or muscles--a trait that clinicians exploit for tissue repair.

With better identification of MSCs, doctors can be certain that the concentration of highly enriched MSC mixture is as stated, making it easier for them to develop stem cell-based treatment that would be more consistent and produce better results.

There is no good way to separate MSCs from bone marrow cells that have already begun to differentiate into other cell types, but share the same molecules on the cell surface. This may be one reason why research results vary among laboratories and why stem-cell treatments now in clinical trials are not as effective as they could be, said Krystyn Van Vlict.

"Researchers try to isolate MSCs based on protein markers found on the cell surfaces. But these markers lack sufficient 'resolution' to distinguish between subpopulations of MSC with distinct functions. This approach to identify subpopulations of stem cells, distinct from other marrow stromal cells, has re-ignited hope for better stem-cell treatments," Jacky Lee said, The scientists are starting clinical trials on the use of biophysically sorted cells for bone marrow regeneration and repair.

Experts say the discovery will allow researchers to identify and select the best population of stem cells that we can use for treating different diseases such as brittle-bone disease or in repairing large bone defects. The technique will enhance knowledge of the cells being used in our upcoming clinical trial to repair large bone defects.

The researchers tested injected MSCs in mice and found that these cells could repair both muscle and bone injuries, while marrow-derived cells identified as osteogenic stromal cells were able to repair bone but not muscle.

Hui Shi said, "Our test in mice showed that MSCs can be identified and highly enriched for bone growth and muscle repair. This means that we can select, purify and concentrate MSCs for tissue repair for people who, for instance, suffer from knee joint pain."

Going forward, the SMART team hopes to develop high-speed methods for separating MSC subpopulations. This research is funded by the Singapore National Research Foundation, Prime Minister's Office, under its Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE) program.

Citation: W. C. Lee et al.; "Multivariate biophysical markers predictive of mesenchymal stromal cell multipotcncy"; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1402306111


Contact: Krystyn. J. Van Vliet,

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Title Annotation:Advanced Stem Cell Technology
Publication:Stem Cell Lab World
Date:Oct 20, 2014
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