DURHAM, N.C. -- A novel growth factor significantly improves the ability of specialized stem cells derived from human fat to be transformed into cartilage cells, according to Duke University Medical Center and Pratt School of Engineering researchers.
Such growth factors are crucial to the bioengineering of tissues for clinical use in humans, the researchers said, because cells would need to be grown quickly and in large numbers in order to be practical. For the current study, as well as for past experiments in this area, the Duke team isolated the specialized cells, known as human adipose-derived adult stem cells (hADAS), from fat obtained during liposuction procedures, and then exposed the cells to a cocktail of various growth factors in order to stimulate their transformation into cartilage cells.
The growth factor that the Duke team used in hADAS cells for the first time is called bone morphogenetic protein 6 (BMP-6), a naturally occurring protein that is involved in hardening, or ossifying, the soft ends of long bones that come into contact with cartilage.
The researchers found that BMP-6 significantly increased the production of two important biochemical markers of cartilage cell proliferation. Specifically, hADAS cells treated with BMP-6 increased by 205 times the expression of aggrecan, a component of articular cartilage, and they increased by 38 times the production of a type of collagen uniquely present in cartilage, compared with cells without BMP-6 in the cocktail.
"Our studies suggest that growing hADAS cells with BMP-6 could provide tissue that could be used to repair damaged cartilage," said Bradley Estes, a graduate student in Pratt's Department of Bioengineering and lead author of a paper published in the April 2006 issue of the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism. The team's research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.