Last year, Dr Yu Suk Choi made a breakthrough finding which will help stiffened heart muscles due to a heart attack restore themselves to healthy cells, giving heart attack patients new hope of a better recovery.
“Stem cells derived from fat have a surprising trick up their sleeve – when encouraged to develop on a muscle-tissue mimicking surface, they undergo a remarkable transformation toward becoming mature muscle cells,” said Dr Choi.
Stem cells work by using the ‘stiffness’ of surrounding tissue as a gauge to identify the way to behave in a particular environment in the human body.
By using hydrogel to mimic the stiffness of tissue, Dr Choi found they could ‘trick’ the fat cells into behaving in particular ways to help them grow and encourage the cells to behave in positive, regenerative ways.
“Many degenerative diseases result in changes to tissue stiffness which alters the behaviour of cells,” he said. “But by controlling tissue stiffness we can revert cell behaviour back to normal, and change their behaviour at the disease site into more regenerative behaviour. This will help us to treat diseases such heart failure, that are currently very difficult to treat.”
This research may have important uses in combating serious illnesses, such as heart attack and heart failure, as well as having the potential to help treat diseases such as cancer.
The next step for Dr Choi’s research is to use hydrogel with patient originated cells to further understand the effect of tissue stiffness on cell behaviour.