A car accident leaves an aging patient with severe muscle injuries that won’t heal. Treatment with muscle stem cells from a donor might restore damaged tissue, but doctors are unable to deliver them effectively. A new method may help change this. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) engineered a molecular matrix, a hydrogel, to deliver muscle stem cells called muscle satellite cells (MuSCs) directly to injured muscle tissue in patients whose muscles don’t regenerate well. In lab experiments on mice, the hydrogel successfully delivered MuSCs to injured, aged muscle tissue to boost the healing process while protecting the stem cells from harsh immune reactions. The method was also successful in mice with a muscle tissue deficiency that emulated Duchene muscular dystrophy, and if research progresses, the new hydrogel therapy could one day save the lives of people suffering from the disease. Simply injecting additional muscle satellite cells into damaged, inflamed tissue has proven inefficient, in part because the stem cells encounter an immune system that opposes them. “Any muscle injury is going to attract immune cells. Typically, this would help muscle stem cells repair damage. But in aged or dystrophic muscles, immune cells lead to the release a lot of toxic chemicals like cytokines and free radicals that kill the new stem cells,” said Dr. Young Jang, an Assistant Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences and one of the study’s principal investigators. Only between 1 and 20 percent of injected MuSCs make it to damaged tissue, and those that do, arrive there weakened. Also, some tissue damage makes any injection unfeasible, thus the need for new delivery strategies. “Our new hydrogel protects the stem cells, which multiply and thrive inside the matrix.
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