Researchers Re-Engineer Cell Membranes to Create Cellular Superglue

Researchers Re-Engineer Cell Membranes to Create Cellular Superglue

A team of researchers at the University of Bristol have developed a new technology for binding cells together with a biological superglue. The technology could be used in cell therapies and tissue engineering and has many potential applications, including cell therapies to accelerate wound healing.

Cell membrane re-engineering is an exciting area of research and could lead to a new generation of cell therapies. Cell membranes can be engineered to include a host of new functions, giving them adhesion properties, homing abilities, and resistance to hypoxia, for example.

Dr. Adam Perriman and his team have re-engineered cell membranes to incorporate active enzymes that promote extracellular matrix protein assembly. The extracellular matrix protects the cells and allows them to thrive, even in aggressive environments such as after transplantation into patients. Further, the researchers demonstrated that their technique could be used to create 3D cellular structures that could be used for tissue engineering.

The researchers modified human mesenchymal stem cell membranes using the enzyme thrombin – An enzyme present in the blood that plays an important role in wound healing. The modified stem cells were placed in a solution containing the protein fibrinogen and they clumped together and bonded by growing an artificial extracellular matrix – A natural fibrin hydrogel created on the surface of the cells.

“The resulting hydrogel constructs support high levels of viability and proliferation in hMSCs cultures over 22 days, which can be readily differentiated to produce self-supporting tissue engineered constructs,” explained the researchers. They support high levels of metabolic activity and serve as a matrix that allows adipogenic and osteogenic differentiation.

The researchers tested their engineered cells in an in vivo zebrafish skin wound model and demonstrated the technique is easy and allowed thrombin labelled GFP-expressing fibroblasts to be injected into the wound site.

The engineered cells could potentially be transplanted into patients to accelerate the healing of chronic wounds and have potential to be used in a wide range of new biotechnologies.

The research is detailed in the paper – Artificial cell membrane binding thrombin constructs drive in situ fibrin hydrogel formation – which was recently published in the journal Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09763-0

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