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Japan: Developing Matrix Materials for Controlling Stem Cell’s Differentiation

The tissue regeneration materials department of the International Center for Materials Nanoarchitecture, Japan National Institute of Materials Science, has successfully developed a matrix material that can control stem cell differentiation for regenerative medicine. On December 15, 2011, the results were published online in the Journal Biomaterials.

To make regenerative medicine a reality, people must be able to induce stem cells to differentiate into specific cell types in order to reconstruct needed tissues or organs to treat diseases or defects. Control of stem cell differentiation is the most critical aspect of this process. Nowadays, people are paying attention to the role of extracellular matrix, which surrounds stem cells in vivo, in influencing the differentiation of stem cells. However, because the extracellular matrix enclosing differentiating cells is very complex, and structural remodeling occurs according to the stage of differentiation, it has been very difficult to produce extracellular matrix materials by imitating the matrix whose structure changes at different stages.

In this study, the team successfully produced two types of matrix materials that mimic the dynamic changes of extracellular matrix during stem cell differentiation. They are "stepwise osteogenesis-mimicking matrix" and "stepwise adipogenesis-mimicking matrix". They mimic the extracellular matrix when mesenchymal stem cells differentiate into osteoblasts and adipocytes, respectively.

Using these two stepwise tissue development-mimicking matrices, the researchers successfully controlled the osteogenic and adipogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells. These results suggest that extracellular matrix plays an important role in controlling the balance of osteogenesis and adipogenesis of mesenchymal stem cells.

In the future, researchers expect that this step-by-step tissue development mimic matrix will also play a key role in explaining the role of extracellular matrix in the differentiation of induced multifunctional cells, embryonic stem cells and other stem cells for regenerative medicine. Based on the fact that osteoporosis may be caused by disruption of the balance between osteogenic differentiation and adipogenic differentiation, these materials can also be used to explain the pathogenesis of the disease.
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