Helping transplanted stem cells stick around and do their jobs

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Bone marrow transplants of hematopoietic stem cells have developed into common practice for various conditions including blood and lymph cancers, sickle cell anemia, inherited metabolic disorders, and radiation damage. Unfortunately, many bone marrow transplants can be expensive and somewhat invasive. In fact, mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC’s) release growth factors that boost the immune system and have shown positive outcomes in clinical trials.

Indeed, Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) developed a single-cell encapsulation technology that impacts transplanted (MSC’s) from clearance and immune rejection. The work is published in PNAS.

“To our knowledge, this is the first example of single-cell encapsulation being used to improve cell therapies, which are becoming more widespread as treatments for a number of diseases,” said first author Angelo Mao, a former graduate student in the lab.

Besides, the researchers tested how microgel encapsulation affects (MSC’s) capacity and resistance because a large amount of (MSC’s) can stimulate the body’s immune system. Moreover, they adjusted their original alginate microgel by adding another compound that combines to the alginate and strenghthens the microgel. Hence, they also cultured the (MSC’s) after encapsulation in order to split and generate more cells.

In addition, inflammatory cytokines spark MSCs which then secrete immune-modulating genes and proteins. Thus, the researchers next tested what resulted to their new microgels after encapsulation.

Finally, they discovered encapsulated MSCs had comparable levels of gene expression when exposed to the same cytokines, confirming that the microgels did not hinder MSC performance.