The team’s new “cellular glue” molecules helped these cells assemble into a structure.
By Monisha Ravisetti
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco announced a fascinating innovation on Monday. They call it “cellular glue” and say it could one day open doors to massive medical achievements, like building organs in a lab for transplantation and reconstructing nerves that’ve been damaged beyond the reach of standard surgical repair.
Basically, the team engineered a set of synthetic molecules that can be manipulated to coax cells within the human body to bond with one another. Together, these molecules constitute the so-called “cellular glue” and act like adhesive molecules naturally found in and around cells that involuntarily dictate the way our tissues, nerves and organs are structured and anchored together.
Only in this case scientists can voluntarily control them.
“The properties of a tissue, like your skin for example, are determined in large part by how the different cells are organized within it,” Adam Stevens, a researcher at UCSF’s Cell Design Institute and first author of a paper in the journal Nature, said in a statement. “We’re devising ways to control this organization of cells, which is central to being able to synthesize tissues with the properties we want them to have.”
Doctors could eventually use the sticky material as a viable mechanism to mend patients’ wounds, regrow nerves otherwise deemed destroyed and potentially even work toward regenerating diseased lungs, livers and other vital organs.
That last bit could lend a hand in alleviating the crisis of donor organs rapidly running out of supply. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 17 people in the US die each day while on the waitlist for an organ transplant, yet every 10 minutes, another person is added to that list.
“Our work reveals a flexible molecular adhesion code that determines which cells will interact, and in what way,” Stevens said. “Now that we are starting to understand it, we can harness this code to direct how cells assemble into tissues and organs.”
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