Feeding Stem Cells Adenosine Builds New Bone

Credit: Brajith Srigengan, University of Cambridge

Applying the naturally occurring molecule adenosine to pluripotent stem cells can spark new bone tissue formation

Making stem cells from adult tissue was a fantastic achievement, but we're still working on exactly which 'recipes' trigger differentiation into each cell type. Establishing which signals lead to new bone tissue is especially important for regenerative medicine and would enable better treatment of traumatic injuries and birth defects. 

"One of the broader goals of our research is to make regenerative treatments more accessible and clinically relevant by developing easy, efficient and cost-effective ways to engineer human cells and tissues"

A simpler method

Researchers from  the University of California San Diego have developed a method of differentiating pluripotent stem cells into osteoblasts - the cell type responsible for building new bone tissue. Adenosine is an abundant molecule in nature and is naturally produced in the body, playing an important role in a number of biochemical processes. The newly converted osteoblasts they formed were able to construct bone with interwoven blood vessels - even forming new bone tissue in mice with bone defects following transplantation. The transplanted osteoblasts were also able to safely form new bone without forming teratomas. Teratomas are essentially a mixed tumour that can form when stem cells go 'rogue' and churn out too many new cells without the appropriate controls. 

The chemical structure of adenosine

"It's amazing that a single molecule can direct stem cell fate. We don't need to use a cocktail of small molecules, growth factors or other supplements to create a population of bone cells from human pluripotent stem cells like induced pluripotent stem cells"

The research built on previous work that revealed calcium phosphate minerals found in bone are able to induce new tissue formation by producing increased ATP production, which in turn leads to adenosine formation. The team theorised that they could skip out the middle steps and simply apply one of the later molecules like adenosine, and they were right. 

The discovery is exciting partly because adenosine isn't prohibitively expensive and is widely available, but also because its a simple, elegant method of differentiation. Other research has used complicated mixtures of factors and molecules to differentiate cells into particular types. 

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