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Stem cell transformation research sheds new light on osteoporosis

In order to study how stem cells can treat diseases, researchers first must be able to observe the full process of the cells’ transformation. Being able to observe that process without impeding it is a challenge, but a University of Missouri College of Engineering researcher helped find a better way to do it, uncovering key information about osteoporosis in older women in the process.

Elizabeth Loboa, dean of MU Engineering and bioengineering professor, along with her doctoral student Rachel Nordberg and Binil Starly from the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State University, published “Electrical cell-substrate impedance spectroscopy can monitor age-grouped human adipose stem cell variability during osteogenic differentiation” in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Portrait of Elizabeth Loboa

In order to study how stem cells can treat diseases, researchers first must be able to observe the full process of the cells’ transformation. Being able to observe that process without impeding it is a challenge, but a Elizabeth Loboa, dean and bioengineering professor of MU Engineering, helped find a better way to do it, uncovering key information about osteoporosis in older women in the process.

The team used what’s called electrical cell-substrate impedance spectroscopy (ECIS) to monitor the process stimulated human fat, or human adipose stem cells (hASC), goes through to convert to bone cells. Using cells from young (24-36 years old), middle aged (48-55) and elderly (60-81) participants allowed researchers to uncover the fact that elderly cells took less time to transition, while younger cells converted more cells that secreted the necessary calcium over time.

Adipose stem cells are a viable source for various types of regenerative medicine because of their abundance. Fat cells are readily available through liposuction procedures. However, the study points out that hASC from different donors vary widely in their ability to grow and transform into the cells needed to regenerate bone or tissue.

“There is still a lot to learn about how stem cells grow and convert to needed tissues,” Loboa said.

That’s where ECIS comes in. To learn about the cellular transformation process, researchers need to be able to observe it from start to finish without affecting it. ECIS provides a non-invasive approach by allowing researchers to monitor how the shape and response of cells vary as a function of alterations caused by electrical currents as well as additional stimuli.

“Sometimes the biggest hurdle is watching the process as it takes place. We need the ability to observe and monitor the process in real time without impeding it,” Loboa said.

This is the first study to utilize the ECIS method to track donor-to-donor variability in the hASC transformation process to bone cells. The results indicate that ECIS potentially could be adapted to give instant feedback to explain donor differences, as well as setting universal standards for manufacturing and applications.

“Results demonstrate that ECIS can potentially be used to screen for osteogenic potential of hASC, track the stages of osteogenic differentiation for quality control purposes and better explain the underlying biological causes of variability among donors,” Loboa said. “And, since the results typically are in real time, this technology could be incorporated into future manufacturing to track hASC throughout the process.”