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New “cellular glue” could help build tissues

Researchers have taken a major step forward in regenerative medicine through the creation of new synthetic adhesion molecules. The study, published in Nature, details the development of adhesion molecules that can enable precise interactions between cells. This “cellular glue” has the potential to heal wounds and reconnect nerves.

Have you tried gluing it back together?

The entire body is essentially held together by adhesive molecules, which can be seen as a naturally occurring “glue.” For example, cells in solid organs are held together by strong interactions to form tissues, and immune cells require loose interactions to roll through blood vessels. The degree of interaction between cells is extremely important in the organisation and function of structures in the body. The formation of new tissues usually occurs when we are growing (in utero and during childhood). As a result, the ability to generate new tissue is lost by adulthood, and many tissues, like neurons, do not repair after injury.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) developed a way to form new connections in adult cells. They designed customised adhesion molecules that interact with specific cells to form multicellular structures.

Dr Adam Stevens, first author and Hartz Fellow at UCSF’s Cell Design Institute said, “The properties of a tissue, like your skin for example, are determined in large part by how the different cells are organized within it. We’re devising ways to control this organization of cells, which is central to being able to synthesize tissues with the properties we want them to have.”

Building tissues using mixed and matched molecules

The researchers had a two-part approach to the design of the adhesion molecules, which share the fundamental design principles of natural adhesion molecules in the body. The first part of the molecule is extracellular. It acts as a receptor and determines what cell-types it will bind to. The second part of the molecule is intracellular. It determines the strength of the interaction. This makes it possible to “tune” the interaction that is mediated by the extracellular part. The molecules can be combined in various ways to tailor the cellular interaction and its strength.

The study highlights a significant step forward in the field of regenerative medicine. The technology has the potential to regenerate damaged tissues, heal wounds faster, and reconnect nerves.

Professor Wendell Lim, senior author and Director of UCSF’s Cell Design Institute said, “We were able to engineer cells in a manner that allows us to control which cells they interact with, and also to control the nature of that interaction. This opens the door to building novel structures like tissues and organs.”

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Neurological / Regenerative Medicine