For many years now, scientists have been seeking methods of helping to heal chronic wounds such as those suffered by diabetics. One of the latest possible techniques involves re-engineering the membranes of stem cells, so that those cells essentially get welded together.

Led by Dr. Adam Perriman, a team at the UK's University of Bristol started with human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs). The scientists then modified the cells' membranes with an enzyme known as thrombin, which is a key ingredient in the wound-healing process.

When the treated cells were subsequently placed in a solution containing the blood protein fibrinogen, a natural hydrogel grew out from their membranes. In a process called extracellular matrix production, the gel joined the cells together, forming a three-dimensional cellular structure.

Because hMSCs are capable of becoming connective tissue, the hMSC/fibrinogen mixture could conceivably be applied to chronic wounds, forming a matrix that would allow them to heal. The solution might also find use as a surgical glue.

"One of the biggest challenges in cell therapies is the need to protect the cells from aggressive environments after transplantation," says Perriman. "We have developed a completely new technology that allows cells to grow their own artificial extracellular matrix, enabling cells to protect themselves and allowing them to thrive after transplantation."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.