Date Published: 21 June 2012

New research helps scientists track the location of stem cells administered to patients

Scientific researchers working at Liverpool University (England) have reported the development of new ways to track stem cells. These new methods for tracking stem cells have, in turn, led to further understanding of what happens to stem cells after they have been in the body for a significant period of time.

This is important because stem cells are used to treat some serious medical conditions such as leukaemia. Scientists claim that stem cells might also be able to assist in the treatment of other diseases and disorders for which patient survival often relies on donation of organs and/or tissue donation. One problem with the use of stem cells is that it has been difficult for medics to be sure if stem cells have survived following transplantation in the body and, if they have survived, whether they have reached their target site (in the body), or moved on to a different location.

In order to track stem cells in the human body scientists use superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) to 'label' the cells before they are administered into the patient. These particles can be picked up by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and therefore enable the scientists to establish if the stem cells reach their intended target. However, certain conditions within the body's cells can lead to the degradation of SPIONs and reduce the ability of MRI scans to pick up on their signal in the long-term.

Scientists at Liverpool University are developing methods to visualize SPIONs in the cells before they enter the body in order to find out where the particles are going within the stem cell and so, hopefully, to help predict how they might perform once they are inside the body over a long period of time. They are using a special a photothermal microscope (a unique optical imaging system), to improve SPION labelling so that particles survive for longer and have minimal impact on the function of the transplanted cells.

Dr Lara Bogart, from Liverpool University said:

" Stem cells have the potential to replace and repair damaged tissue to preclude the need for a patient to wait for an organ or tissue transplant. Research is ongoing into how it could be used to treat a wide variety of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, and type one diabetes.
_ In order to fully explore this potential, however, more technological developments are needed to understand how stem cells behave in the body after transplantation. If we can't monitor stem cells effectively, it can have serious implications for patient health. Studies have already shown that if cells migrate to the circulatory system, beyond their target organ or tissue site, then it can cause inflammation in the body.
_ Labelling stem cells is hugely valuable to tracking their movements in the body, but we need to know more about how the particles used interact with stem cells. Using new imaging systems we can work out their precise location in the cell and how they behave over time. We hope to use this information to improve understanding of the MRI signal that tracks SPIONs once stem cells have been transplanted.

Ref. to Paper
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Source: Liverpool University -

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