A unique population of stem cells has been isolated that are capable of craniofacial reconstruction
Reported in Nature Communications, the discovery resulted from a search for treatment of craniosynostosis - a skull deformity condition in infants that leads to developmental delay and dangerous pressure within the brain. Craniofacial surgery can save lives and make a huge difference, but stem cells are a potentially superior treatment, allowing a person to 'grow their own' facial structure.
Focusing on mice
In the pursuit of a therapy, the team involved focused on the mutation Axin2 in mice that causes craniosynostosis. Wondering how this gene could cause such malformation, they analysed which areas the gene was being expressed in the skull. After mapping these cells, they found about 1% of these Axin2 expressing types were unique skeletal stem cells, able to form skeletal bone.
Working towards a treatment
Previous research in 2015 also found that another population of stem cells named Gli1+, isolated in joining tissue between bone, could lead to craniosynostosis if they were in short supply. When the scientists transplated these cells into infants with injured skulls, they migrated towards the area and repaired the damage.
The discovery of specific stem cells, unique to each area of the body, could enable therapies in the future. Patients undergoing skull surgery could perhaps have infusions of these cell types, and surgeons could take care to avoid destroying these populations. Someday these cells may also reform the skull after considerable malformation and injury too.
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