Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering to use stem cells to engineer soft tissue. This may ultimately allow scientists to use a patient’s own stem cells to develop tissue for facial reconstruction following disfigurement from war injuries, cancer surgery, or accidents.

“Our research has shown that mesenchymal stem cells can create tissue that is biocompatible with the host and that the continuous generation of these cells can replenished the implant to reduce shrinkage,” says Jeremy Mao, DDS, PhD, associate professor of dental medicine at the university.

Currently, surgeons graft from the patient’s own tissue, which creates additional wounds. Grafted cells may also fail to stay alive, causing implants to shrink by as much as 70% and lose their shape. Attempts have also been made to use fat cells left over after liposuction, but those cells also have a limited lifespan.

The Columbia team of biologists, biomedical engineers, biomaterial scientists, imaging experts, and surgeons has shown that human mesenchymal stem cells can create long-lasting implants in mice. The implant is created by placing the stem cells into an FDA-approved scaffold that mimics the conditions needed to turn stem cells into fat cells.

Because stem cells have the ability to replicate and differentiate, they can regenerate the soft tissue, keeping the implant from shrinking. In mice, these cells have successfully created fat cells that could be implanted and retained their size and shape for at least a month. Because the implants can be molded into any size or shape, they could also be used for breast reconstruction.

[www.newswise.com, June 28, 2007]