New study reveals how new “hydrogel“ could boost stem cell transplantation

A new study has revealed how a new "hydrogel" could boost stem cell transplantation to aid brain recovery following  stroke.

The study helped partially reverse blindness in mice.

With the injection of hydrogel-encapsulated photoreceptor cells into the eyes of blind mice, the researchers were able to partially restored vision.

Stem cell therapy has emerged as a major focus in medical research,  particularly tissue regeneration, primarily thanks to the ability of stem cells to become any other cell type in the body.

Medical News Today had reported in March how stem cell therapy could one day be used to treat osteoarthritis, after researchers transformed human embryonic stem cells into cartilage cells, which successfully repaired damaged cartilage after being transplanted into the knee joints of rats.

However, according to University of Toronto team, when it came to stem cell transplantation, there were a number of problems. They said while scientists could successfully grow stem cells in a lab dish, once left to their own devices after being transplanted into the body, stem cells often died or found it hard to fuse with surrounding tissue.

Led by University of Toronto professors Molly Shoichet (ChemE, IBBME) and Derek van der Kooy, together with professor Cindi Morshead, the team encased stem cells in a hydrogel, which boosted their healing abilities when transplanted into both the eye and the brain.

The findings form part of an ongoing effort aimed at development of new therapies to repair nerve damage caused by a disease or injury.

One component of the Stem Cell Reports study involved the injection of hydrogel-encapsulated photoreceptors, grown from stem cells, into the eyes of blind mice.

Photoreceptors, the light sensing cells are responsible for vision in the eye.

With increased cell survival and integration in the stem cells, the team was able to partially restore vision.

According to Dr Brian Ballios, an expert in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine for retinal degenerative disease, who led this part of the study, after cell transplantation, the team's measurements showed that mice with previously no visual function regained approximately 15 per cent of their papillary response.

Their eyes were beginning to detect light and respond appropriately, he said.

Michael Cook, (ChemE, IBBME), a postdoctoral fellow in both Shoichet's and Morshead's labs, who coordinated another part of the study, injected the stem cells into the brains of mice who had recently suffered strokes.

According to Cooke, after transplantation, within weeks, the researchers started seeing improvements in the motor coordination of the mice.