Mussel-based glue helps stem cells stick to their job site
The utility of the humble mussel in the world of medicine has expanded once again. This time, researchers figured out how to use a mussel-based glue to hold stem cells in place long enough to repair cartilage inside a rabbit's body.
While it might not look like much, the marine mussel is having a big impact in the world of medical research. This is largely because it produces a pretty serious glue that helps keep it tethered to rocks underwater, even in currents and tidal flows. Mussel-inspired materials have already been researched as a way to create skin grafts without scaring and as a surgical glue that can stop bleeding in 60 seconds. The glue's unique ability to adhere even underwater makes it a perfect source of inspiration for substances that could be used inside the fluid-filled human body.
Case in point, researchers at three different facilities in Korea created a thick liquid from a combination of the adhesive proteins used by mussels and hyaluronic acid, the latter being a natural substance that cushions and lubricates our joints – it has also been studied as a way to heal cartilage. The acid and the protein bonded together electrostatically thanks to their opposing charges, and the resulting gel did not mix with surrounding bodily fluids, meaning that it didn't plump up or dissolve.
The scientists then impregnated the gel with stem cells, and placed the mixture into damaged cartilage in rabbits. The gel was successfully able to hold the stem cells in place long enough for them to help rebuild the cartilage. In effect, it worked as a scaffold to support the stem cells while they got to work, without the need to actually insert any kind of rigid material to serve the same purpose.
Because the procedure is minimally invasive, the researchers feel that it could be a big boon to the treatment of damaged cartilage going forward.
"The therapeutic effects of stem cells can be significantly enhanced by using mussel adhesion protein, an original biomaterial developed in Korea," said lead researcher Hyung Joon Cha, from the Pohang University of Science and Technology. "Because the liquid bioadhesive can be formulated for injection, it has the potential to be an effective treatment for damaged cartilage when used in stem cell transplantation via an arthroscope, similar to an endoscope."
The glue/acid/stem cell formulation has been given the name CartiFix and is now being developed further by a company known as Nature Gluetech.
The research has been published in the Chemical Engineering Journal.
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