HT chemical manipulation of foetal and adult stem cells - selection transfection and scaffold identification

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Development Origin of Health and Disease


The cells we will study, so-called Mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow, are very special as they have the potential to form a variety of tissue types such as cartilage, bone, muscle, tendon, ligament and fat. For this reason stem cells are currently one of the most exciting and promising areas for disease treatment and reparative medicine and in the future this will allow stem cell-based therapies to be developed to treat or cure diseases. Given the fact that we have an ageing population, the development of strategies to exploit stem cells to allow bone formation or the replacement or restoration of diseased or worn-out bone is a major clinical and socio-economic need. However crucial issues to allow this approach to be successful are the development of methods to allow the purification of stem cells to provide sufficient cells for tissue regeneration, and the development of tools to allow the cells to be controlled and converted into the specific cells desired. There is also a need to allow 3D scaffolds to be built to allow stem cell growth to form selected tissues. This study sets out to develop tools to allow selection of these stem cells and the identification of scaffolds on which these cells will grow and can be modulated using a chemical biology approach.

Technical Summary

The use of stem cells in the form of cell-based therapies is currently one of the most exciting and promising areas for disease treatment and reparative medicine. However, for this goal to be achieved, it is critical that platform technologies be generated to enable the isolation of stem cells, their transfection with both DNA and RNAi as well as the generation of scaffolds for stem cell growth and differentiation to form selected tissues. In order to address this issue we will harness the potential of High Throughput chemical arrays, screens and transfection strategies with mesenchymal stem cells to i) identifyof polymers, via micro-array screening, capable of enriching and supporting fetal mesenchymal stem cells and adult mesenchymal stem cell growth, ii) the development of HT stem cell RNAi an didenitfication of bio-mimetic chemical scaffolds / sequences to drive stem cell differentiation and to modulate stem cell plasticity. Finally we propose to examine ex vivo and in vivo our identified innovative scaffolds using bone formation form the mesenchymal stem cells as en exemplar. This programme of research offers a unique opportunity to harness the potential of polymer arrays and transfection chip technology to characterise the chemical fingerprint of fetal mesenchymal stem cells in comparison to adult mesenchymal stem cells as well as specific stromal lineages (adipocyte versus osteoblast). This potentially offers a novel approach to identify select populations and population subsets (whether skeletal or related stromal lineages such as adipogenic), modulate differentiation and will provide appropriate scaffolds for 3D skeletal reconstruction.


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Khan F (2009) Versatile biocompatible polymer hydrogels: scaffolds for cell growth. in Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English)

Description 1. Development of polyurethane substrates capable of selectively immobilising STRO-1 immunoselected skeletal progenitors from heterogeneous bone marrow mononuclear cell (BMMC) populations (Biomaterials 2009)
2. Identification of polyurethane substrates for surface modification of tissue engineering scaffolds to enhance skeletal cell growth and differentiation (Biomaterials 2009)
3. Synthesis of a synthetic, but biodegradable, binary polymer blend that forms a hydrogel when the two components, namely chitosan and poly(ethylenimine), are mixed. The hydrogel provides a robust 3-D scaffold for the culture and
transfection of foetal skeletal progenitors (Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2009)
4. Generation of 3-D biomimetic scaffolds, by blending poly(L-lactide)/ PLLA and poly(caprolactone)/ PCL, exhibiting porosity and interconnectivity reminiscent of 3-D architecture of normal bone - these scaffolds facilitate bone tissue regeneration in vivo and hold tremendous promise in the development of strategies for skeletal tissue repair (Biomaterials 2010)
Exploitation Route Novel scaffolds generated and high throughput chemical library selection strategies for cells and scaffolds for tissue engineering- the approach can be applied to other cell and tissue types.
Sectors Healthcare

Description The application of high throughput polymer library strategies to identify novel cell selective and bone tissue scaffolds can be applied to other tissues; Thus, from a library of 135 polymer blends, 44% of the polymer blends were identified to bind to adult human skeletal stem cells to varying degrees. The potential of these polymeric substrates to support skeletal stem cell growth and osteogenic differentiation was analysed by in vitro studies before undertaking in vivo bone regeneration studies - this minimised the use of animals. The approach can be applied to other tissues. Selected scaffolds could be scaled to allow preclinical and clinical testing and evaluation.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Healthcare
Impact Types Economic

Title Cellular Adhesion on polymer microarrays 
Description Cellular Adhesion on polymer microarrays for tissue regeneration 
IP Reference GB2425074 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2006
Licensed No
Impact Additional support for further research as a consequence of the patent file. Follow- on Funds achieved
Title Polymer Composite Material 
Description New material for use with skeletal cells in bone applications, in particualr impaction bone grafting 
IP Reference EP2385105 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2011
Licensed No
Impact None to date- only filed in Julyy 2011 -
Title Polymer blends 
Description Novel Polymer blends for bone regeneration 
IP Reference WO2010023463 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2010
Licensed No
Impact Allowed additional research in the field via grant support
Description Scaffolds and cells - making replacement body parts in the lab - Exhibit at the BBSRC Great British Bioscience Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Engaged over 6500 visitors from across the UK as part of the BBSRC run GBBF. EPSRC grant generated the centre piece of our exhibit - the Stem cell mountain - a large interactive pinball machine built in collaboration with Winchester Science Centre to communicate the concept of Stem Cell Potential. In response to the feedback question 'Tell us something from your visit that you found particularly interesting' the answer 'Stem Cells' was one of the most frequently given. Through a conversation at this exhibition a talented international MSc student from Queen Mary's was inspired to commence a PhD project (self-funded) in my group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Science Day at University of Southampton 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Science Day ('Stem Cell Mountain' & Bone regenerative medicine display') at University of Southampton - 14/03/15. (Open to the general public - 1000+ visitors)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008,2011,2013,2015,2016
Description Speaker at UKRMP Conference UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited Speaker - Inaugural UK Regenerative Medicine Conference, London. "Size matters - Harnessing biomimetic materials for skeletal tissue engineering."
The audience were peer scientists, clinicians and industrialist to inform, educate and debate developments in translational bone research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Stem Cell Mountain at the Glastonbury Music Festival Science Tent 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Stem Cell Mountain exhibit in shared Science Tent, mixed Festival audience (academics, post-docs, science specialists, general public, families and young people) Measure 1: visitors passing stand; 1100 per day = 5500 Measure 2: visitors interacting with researchers on stand; 500 per day = 2500 Engaged classically hard to reached audience. Quote: "I was considering doing a PhD at one point - I didn't think I'd reconsider it here"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015