A new technique for binding biomaterials to cells reportedly prevents immune responses and the formation of scar tissue. It may also allow researchers to “steer” stem cells via mechanical stimuli to form fat tissue or bone in the body as needed. The research at the University of Twente in the Netherlands is published in Advanced materials.
Cells sense their environment and react accordingly. For example, mechanical properties influence the behavior of stem cells: A soft environment will prompt them to form fat, while a harsh environment will steer them towards bone formation, explains a press release on the university website describing the research. In current implants, cells attach directly to the material, which can trigger a strong immune response and the formation of scar tissue that can hinder the performance of the implant. Researchers Tom Kamperman and Jeroen Leijten circumvent the immune response by not attaching the biomaterial directly to the cell surface. Instead, the cells are bound to an inert material through a chemical reaction.
The researchers use tyramine to functionalize the biomaterial. Tyramine is molecularly similar to the amino acid tyrosine, which is naturally present in and around cells. The article on the university website continues: “By a cell-friendly chemical reaction, the biomaterial can be linked to the cell ‘on command’. In this way, researchers can determine which cells are allowed to ‘stick’ and where exactly. By stopping the chemical reaction, the material becomes inert again. Selected cells can sense the biomaterial and enable stem cell control, while there is no active scar tissue formation around the material.”
The technology allows researchers to learn more about how cells work, as well as direct them through mechanical stimuli to perform specific tasks. The toolkit developed by Kamperman and Leijten – DOCKING, which stands for discrete on-cell inducible on-cell crosslinking – has already shown that the cellular decision in response to a soft or harsh environment is made in one day. According to the researchers, this determines how a wound heals or how a living implant can work.
The DOCKING toolkit will drive research into regenerative medicine, drug delivery systems, cell therapy and even cultured meat production, the researchers said.