"We found that the cells did indeed function just like smooth muscle," said Wu. "The new device allowed us to evaluate drug-induced changes in the physical properties of smooth muscle at the cell level previously we've needed tissue samples to observe this phenomena."
To make sure they could reproduce the smooth muscle cells and to confirm the transformation, Rodriguez and her team cloned one of the primitive stem cells from the adipose tissue and repeated the experiments on a cloned population of cells with similar results.
"We wanted to make sure it wasn't an isolated case or particular conditions in the cell cultures that allowed us to create or select out already existing smooth muscle cells," said Rodriguez, also a member of the UCLA Stem Cell Institute. "We are surprised and pleased with the results and are excited about future applications."
Rodriguez notes the many advantages of using a patient's own fat stem cells for organ re-growth and tissue regeneration, including no need for anti-rejection medications. In patients with a diseased or absent organ, who cannot use their own organ tissue for regeneration, adipose stem cells offer an alternative.
Smooth muscle cells have also been produced from stem cells found in the brain and bone marrow, but acquiring stem cells from adipose tissue is much easier and most patients have adipose tissue readily available, according to Rodriguez.
The next step, she adds, involves identifying and developing the growth factors that will induce transformation of cells more quickly. She is also starting to use smooth muscle cells for tissue engineering in the urinary tract, including the urethra.