New insights into how stem cells determine what tissue to become

Within 24 hours of culturing adult human stem cells on a new type of matrix, University of Michigan researchers were able to make predictions about how the cells would differentiate, or what type of tissue they would become.

Their results are published in the Aug. 1 edition of Nature Methods.

Differentiation is the process of stem cells morphing into other types of cells. Understanding it is key to developing future stem cell-based regenerative therapies.

"We show, for the first time, that we can predict stem cell differentiation as early as Day 1," said Jianping Fu, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering who is the first author on the paper.

"Normally, it takes weeks or maybe longer to know how the stem cell will differentiate. Our work could speed up this lengthy process and could have important applications in drug screening and regenerative medicine. Our method could provide early indications of how the stem cells are differentiating and what the cell types they are becoming under a new drug treatment."

In this study, Fu and his colleagues examined stem cell mechanics, the slight forces the cells exert on the materials they are attached to.