Stem cells are being used to cure all sorts of things. With current research, scientists are considering using stem cells to cure cancer, diabetes, and maybe even blindness. We even figured out possibilities to artificially create wood with stem cells! However, there are a few more practical options that may seem less groundbreaking but are actually still really huge.
Stem cells are able to turn into almost any other kind of cell which makes them unique and valuable, even potentially regrowing organs. That said, did you know stem cells could also be used as an adhesive? Not a glue that you would make crafts with but a surgical glue that can help patients recover after surgeries or injuries. Scientists have figured out to make this curative glue a possibility.
Current Wound Stitching Methods
Depending on the wound, the patient’s medical history, financial needs, and what’s actually available, there are a few different tools physicians use to put wounds together again. These tools include adhesive tape, sutures, staples, zippers, and of course glue. The options exist due to so many different types of surgeries and wounds, but since the new stem cell technique is a revolutionary type of glue, let’s focus on the predecessor.
Tissue adhesive and liquid stitches are some of the names referring to surgical glue. Physicians use the glue to seal wounds like lacerations, incisions, or wounds to sensitive areas like the face or groin. Glue is preferred in a lot of cases because of the benefits, not the least of which include not having to remove stitches later. There’s also known to be less scarring, less infection, less time in surgery, and less recovery time.
However, not everything is sunshine with surgical glue. For one, it often costs more than sutures, not to mention that some people are allergic to the substance. For patients who heal slowly, glue cannot be used at all. Lastly, the doctor really needs to know what they’re doing as applying the glue has to be very precisely done. Technology will keep advancing, though, and will continue to help.
From Gluing to Welding With Stem Cells
A lot of the problems glue has (aside from the price) can be fixed with this new technique that incorporates stem cells. Scientists from the University of Bristol have recently published the paper ‘Artificial cell membrane binding thrombin constructs drive in situ fibrin hydrogel formation’ in Nature Communications. This paper has depicted a breakthrough of wound healing as we know it. With the method these scientists have discovered, we can get all of the same benefits and then some from surgical glue, as well as preventing allergic reactions and allowing enough time for anyone to heal.
Dr. Adam Perriman of the University of Bristol is an Associate Professor in Biomaterials in the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. Perriman and his colleagues were the first to develop and successfully test the idea that stem cells could be used as a type of surgical glue. In fact, they tested the substance on an in vivo zebrafish skin wound model with success.
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Perriman described the thought process that lead to this revolutionary idea. “One of the biggest challenges in cell therapies is the need to protect the cells from aggressive environments after transplantation. We have developed a completely new technology that allows cells to grow their own artificial extracellular matrix, enabling cells to protect themselves and allowing them to thrive after transplantation.”
How the Weld Works
The stem cells become an adhesive substance thanks to direct re-engineering within the cell itself. We’ve seen this method happen before, with scientists adding or removing certain genes or proteins in cells to convince them to behave a certain way. The same method applies to this research.
Rather than the cell itself, the membrane of human mesenchymal stem cells or hMSCs is modified with an enzyme known as thrombin. Thrombin is most often found in the wound healing process. Once modified, the cells were placed in a solution containing the blood protein fibrinogen which is commonly found in the human body. As a reaction, the cells automatically welded together thanks to the growth of a natural hydrogel formed over the cells’ surface.
What We Can Do With Welding Stem Cells
These adhesive stem cells don’t really work like surgical glue despite how the concept is implied. Yes, it’s used to put wounds back together but these are still stem cells being used as the base material. The glue is not an extra tool but part of the healing process similar to a skin graft. The stem cells become the cells around them, allowing for better healing. That’s why this method is highly recommended to be used for chronic wounds, so the tissue can be engineered to repair itself.
The future looks brighter thanks to this discovery, too. Not only will these adhesive stem cells exist, but this is also another turning point for engineered cells in general. In this case, scientists convert natural enzymes produced by the body into membrane binding proteins to make them weld together. This concept could lead a wide range of biotechnology and bioengineering in the not too distant future.
The Many Uses of Stem Cells
Stem cells are commonly known for their bigger milestones. Curing diseases and repairing organs are pretty deals, after all. There are still smaller things we have to look into, though, which are the more technical aspects of how stem cells work in the first place. One of the big problems with these stem cells is that they’re still generally a mystery, so we keep learning new things about them all the time.
Less Earth-shattering methods like this, meaning just learning how to engineer cells for our own benefit, can have a cascade of amazing results in the future. From here, we have the chance to work on a whole host of problems we didn’t think stem cells could handle before. Thankfully, we have genius minds around the world looking into new ideas and gaining better results all the time.
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