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Stem Cell Differentiation…With Magnets?

The heart and soul of regenerative medicine is the stem cell. Yet as much as we know about stem cells, there is so much more we do not know. One of the focus points of ongoing research is figuring out how to coax stem cells to differentiate into specific kinds of tissue without having to use restrictive bio scaffolds. Researchers in France believe they may have come up with a solution: magnets.

Stem cells are uniquely different from all other cells in the body due to their ability to undergo cellular differentiation. In other words, stem cells have the unique ability to replicate indefinitely and, at the same time, undergo multiple transformations to become different kinds of tissue.

Science has a limited understanding of what influences cellular differentiation. One thing that is known is that differentiation can be influenced by stretching stem cells, which is why researchers use bio scaffolds in their experiments. A bio scaffold provides a supporting matrix that can stretch stem cells in various directions in order to manipulate differentiation. But the scaffolds are limited in what they can do, thus limiting the influence they have on differentiation.

Stretching Cells without Scaffolding

Researchers in France believe they have a solution to the limits of scaffolding. According to a September (2017) article from Medical Physics Web, they have come up with a process of aggregating stem cells with magnetic nanoparticles. External magnets can then be used to stretch and deform the cells at will.

The implications of this principle are almost too hard to imagine. If scientists can manipulate the formation of stem cells at any time, and in virtually any direction using magnets, they could potentially grow just about any kind of human tissue. This suggests unlimited possibilities for addressing everything from broken bones to replacing tissue lost to devastating diseases like cancer.

The French research is still a long way from mainstream application, but science appears to be on to something here. Now it’s up to researchers to fully understand how their magnetic process would work on a larger scale. More time and effort will also have to be put into discovering why manipulating stem cells in certain ways produces more defined cell differentiation.

In the Meantime

The end goal of the French research is to be able to ‘manufacture’ human tissue in a lab setting; tissue that is specific enough to treat a given injury or disease yet nondescript enough that the recipient’s body will not reject it. Until that time comes, stem cell therapies will have to rely on autologous material.

Advanced Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI), a Utah-based stem cell training company, explains that autologous material is material taken directly from the body of the person being treated. ARMI-trained doctors deploy autologous stem cell therapies knowing that the risk of rejection is nearly zero. Stem cell therapies for sports injuries, osteoarthritis, and other conditions represent a virtually risk-free alternative to surgery and long-term use of pain medications.

To be clear, the stem cell therapy procedures ARMI teaches in no way attempt to manipulate cell differentiation. Rather, stem cells are extracted, processed, and injected at the site of injury or tissue loss for the purposes of stimulating the body to more effectively heal itself. Doctors using these therapies are essentially helping the body of the patient do what it naturally does, only better.

ARMI confirms that the way stem cell therapies are utilized today will drastically change once science eventually figures out how to mass produce human tissue in the lab. The future of stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine, as a whole, looks extremely bright.