Synthetic nanoparticles are well known vectors that have been successfully made to target specific cell types for delivery of various therapeutic agents. Stem cell therapy still relies on injections of cells into the treatment area, but now a team from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital has developed a generalized system by which cells can be made to seek out specific tissue types in the body and gather there.
This technology seems to promise a great improvement in the effectiveness of stem cell therapies as well as the ease of their delivery.
For this new platform, researchers engineered the surface of cells to include receptors that act as a homing device. “The central hypothesis of our work is that the ability of cells to home to specific tissues can be enhanced, without otherwise altering cell function,” said corresponding author Jeffrey M. Karp, PhD, co-director of the Regenerative Therapeutics Center at BWH and a principal faculty member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. “By knowing the ‘zip code’ of the blood vessels in specific tissues, we can program the ‘address’ onto the surface of the cells to potentially target them with high efficiencies.”
While conventional cell therapies that include local administration of cells can be useful, they are typically more invasive with limited potential for multiple doses. “You can imagine, that when the targeted tissue is cardiac muscle, for example to treat heart attacks or heart failure, injecting the cells directly into the heart can be an invasive procedure and typically this approach can only be performed once,” said Dr. Karp, also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and affiliate faculty Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.
Using the platform the researchers created, the cells are prepared to travel directly to the area of interest after being injected through a common and much less invasive intravenous infusion method. “These engineered cells may also be more effective because multiple doses can be administered” stated Debanjan Sarkar, PhD, previously a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Karp’s lab and now an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the State University of New York, University at Buffalo.
Abstract in Blood: Engineered cell homing
Image: Fluorescent image of modified stem cells (red) and unmodified cells (green) localized within inflamed tissue 24 hours after injection. Blood vessels are labeled blue.