Breakthrough Advances ‘Regenerative Medicine’


Director of UCSF’s Cell Design Institute, Wendell Lim, Ph.D., holds a cellular model in his office at UCSF’s Mission Bay Campus. | Image by Elena Zhukova/University of California San Francisco Website

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have successfully engineered cells containing “adhesion molecules” that act as a kind of cellular glue capable of binding to other cells.

The team managed to precisely control the process of cellular bonding, a breakthrough that could advance tissue and organ repair and regenerative medicine as a whole, according to a new study published in Nature.

These adhesive molecules, produced naturally within the body, hold the body’s cells together in an organized manner. Not only do they form structures, but these molecules also create neuronal circuits, facilitate communication between cells, and guide immune cells to their intended targets.

The adhesion molecule is designed with two components. The first one acts as a receptor. It is responsible for determining with which cells to interact. The second part acts as a sort of tuner. It adjusts the strength of the cellular bond depending on the task at hand, allowing for a diverse array of customized cells that can bond in various ways.

“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,” stated the study’s senior author, Wendell Lim, the Byers Distinguished Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and director of UCSF’s Cell Design Institute.

In the future, said Lim, medicine could ultimately produce “novel structures like tissues and organs.”

Humans are born with the ability to form bodily tissue and organs, but molecular instructions fade over time. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to heal injuries with age.

In some instances, specific injuries or diseases cannot be overcome. Lim believes his team’s latest findings could help medicine conquer this obstacle by engineering adult cells that can produce new connections.

Adam Stevens, Hartz Fellow at the Cell Design Institute and one of the paper’s co-authors, 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.”

Stevens said the team is now developing methods to “control this organization of cells,” a critical component allowing the tissue to be synthesized “with the properties we want them to have.”

Such advancements could lead to the regeneration of nerves, which could help treat the symptoms of diseases like diabetes, which can damage the nerves that control movement, sensation, and other functions.

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, diabetes and dementia have been linked to obesity, which has skyrocketed in recent decades, with nearly 50% of American adults projected to be obese by 2030 and about 25% projected to be morbidly obese.

Recovery and repair are not the only avenues for the breakthrough. According to Stevens, tissue could theoretically be designed to model disease states, allowing researchers to study diseases within human tissue better.

Cell adhesion is also an essential component of the evolutionary process, and the new findings may help expand understanding in the field.

“It’s very exciting that we now understand much more about how evolution may have started building bodies,” said Stevens.

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