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Watching Fat Cells Become Bone Cells: New Osteoporosis Info!

Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.P.H., M.Ed. • Wed, October 19th, 2016

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Researchers from the University of Missouri are digging down into the process of stem cell transformation. Specifically, they have found a way to observe how human fat cells become bone tissue cells.

Elizabeth Loboa,  Ph.D. / Courtesy of University of Missouri

Elizabeth Loboa, Ph.D. / Courtesy of University of Missouri

“Stem cell treatments and therapies hold tremendous promise in treating a range of diseases and injuries; however, there is still a lot to learn about how stem cells grow and convert to needed tissues, ” said Elizabeth Loboa, Ph.D., dean of the MU College of Engineering, in the October 5, 2016 news release. “Sometimes the biggest hurdle is watching the process as it takes place. We need the ability to observe and monitor the process without impeding it; therefore, our team decided to analyze and study a new approach to monitoring stem cells as they transform into tissues we may need to treat disease.”

As indicated in the news release, “To watch the cells transform, the team used electrical cell-substrate impedance spectroscopy (ECIS). ECIS currently is used to monitor how cells react to drugs and to assess how cell walls or cell barriers function. The team’s target was stem cells derived from human fat, or human adipose (hASC) cells and the process these stem cells use to convert to bone cells when stimulated to do so.”

Dr. Loboa commented to OTW, “Typical cell culture approaches may not evaluate critical stem cell functions in real time. The most common cell culture evaluation processes analyze cells at specific time points (e.g., perhaps at 24 hours, 3 days, 1 week, etc.). Such approaches can inherently miss critical processes that may be occurring at other time points. Use of electrical cell substrate impedance spectroscopy (ECIS) allowed us to evaluate fat-derived stem cells (also known as human adipose stem cells (hASC)) from different age-grouped donors, in real time, both while the cells were proliferating and while they were differentiating into bone cells.

“While it is known that human adipose stem cells (hASC) from different people do not all grow and differentiate in the same way (i.e., the cells exhibit “donor-to-donor variability” in their response), details about the effects of donor age on variability in hASC response are sparse.

“In our study, we discovered that donor age may temporally control the onset of osteogenesis of hASC. In particular, by tracking complex impedance measurements of the cells in real time, we determined that hASC from younger donors take a longer time to differentiate into bone cells than hASC from older donors. However, the hASC from younger donors proliferated more and accreted more calcium long term than hASC from older donors.

“Since elderly patients are those that typically suffer the most from osteoporosis, which can lead to greater risk of bone fracture, better understanding of how these patients’ stem cells differ from those of younger patients is important for development and optimization of patient-specific bone tissue engineering and regenerative medicine therapies.”

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