Biological engineering, which once excited the medical community, has been fraught with the difficulties of keeping transplanted cells alive and getting them to integrate with a host’s body. Researchers at Harvard University’s Department of Engineering and Applied Science may have solved these problems.
“We transplant the cells on a scaffold that keeps them alive, then directs them to leave in a controlled manner and migrate into the surrounding tissue,” explains David Mooney, Gordon McKay Professor of Bioengineering. “This is the first time that has been done.”
The strategy successfully heals lacerated muscles in mice, but the potential exists for applying it to a wide variety of situations in humans, including treatment of muscular dystrophy, heart disease, and some brain disorders, and to regenerate bone.
“We don’t know yet whether the specific materials and approach we used [will] work in humans,” Mooney says. “However, I think the basic concept is a very powerful one that will likely have application in humans in some form. We demonstrated the concept with muscle, and this could be useful to treat wounds and, perhaps some day, muscular dystrophy.
“In addition, it could be very useful in transplantation of cells to the heart to treat coronary artery diseases, to transplant cells that promote blood vessel formation, to transplant cells to the brain to treat various neurological conditions, and to transplant cells to promote bone generation.”