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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering > Nanobiotechnology: From Stem Cell, Tissue Engineering To Cancer Research

Yubing Xie
CNSE Assistant Professor of Nanobioscience
College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering

Abstract:
Nanobiotechnology is the application of nanotechnology for the study of biological and biomedical systems. One of the major areas is the utility of nanoscale systems and nanofabricated devices to guide stem cell development, mimic tissue regeneration and develop tools for cancer research.

May 6th, 2009

Nanobiotechnology: From Stem Cell, Tissue Engineering To Cancer Research

Nanobiotechnology is the application of nanotechnology for the study of biological and biomedical systems. One of the major areas is the utility of nanoscale systems and nanofabricated devices to guide stem cell development, mimic tissue regeneration and develop tools for cancer research.

Since stem cells are able to self-renew and differentiate into specialized cell types, so called pluripotency, they have great potential to better understand diseases, aid in drug discovery and treat diseases. The breakthrough findings that adult cells can be reprogrammed to Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) provide an important cell source for regenerative medicine and drug discovery. Using a set of reprogramming factors linked to pluripotency, iPSCs can be produced from normal human cells or patient's cells with specific diseases. These iPSCs hold great promise for the study and treatment of human disease. Nanofabrication-based gene delivery of reprogramming factors into cells will facilitate generating iPSCs in a safe, efficient and effective manner.

The self-renewal and differentiation of stem cells are controlled by stem cell microenvironment which constitutes of extracellular matrices, soluble factors and neighboring cells. The extracellular matrix is an interconnected fibrous network with nanoscale architecture. Most of the soluble factors are growth factors which are naturally occurring proteins. Cell-cell junctions play a critical role in stem cell proliferation and differentiation. It is essential to understand how stem cells interact with their microenvironment before realizing the full potential of iPSCs and other stem cells. The nanoscale interactions between stem cells and their microenvironment can be revealed by metrology tools such as scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy and fluorescence microscopy combined with cell biology techniques. The advance in nanotechnology will provide better metrology tools as well as molecular probes to visualize cell-microenvironment interactions.

Cells and tissues in the body are three-dimensional (3-D) architectures with nanoscale interactions. Stem cells are usually studied in vitro using two-dimensional (2-D) monolayer culture. In many cases, cells grown in 2-D culture fail to recapitulate some of the key stem cell properties. Therefore, it is necessary to establish 3-D tissue models for stem cell studies. Using the tissue engineering principle, 3-D cultivation systems can be established to mimic stem cell microenvironments, propagate stem cells and differentiate them into cell types of interest. The stem cell microenvironment can be manipulated with nanofibrous matrices or surfaces with nanotopography to mimic the extracellular matrix and basement membrane, nanoparticles or micro-devices to control the release of soluble factors, cell deposition techniques to place neighboring cells close to stem cells. The ability to reconstruct stem cell microenvironments will facilitate the understanding of stem cell-microenvironment interactions and the maintenance of stem cell properties in vitro. Micro-/Nanofabrication technologies make it possible to construct micro-tissue models for understanding stem cell differentiation and tissue morphogenesis. The drugs that regulate stem cell behaviors can be good therapeutics. In this way, the 3-D micro-tissue model provides a platform for screening therapeutics and testing drug efficacy.

A rare subtype of cancer cells shares similarities with normal stem cells which possess unlimited self-renewal potential and differentiation capacity. These cells are referred to cancer stem cells. Comparing behaviors of embryonic stem cells, iPSCs generated from patients with cancer, and cancer stem cells in 3-D cultivation system will facilitate the discovery of therapeutic target. The surrounding microenvironment of cancer cells plays a critical role in tumorigenesis and metastasis. In addition to extracellular matrix (ECM) and soluble factors, cancer cell microenvironment is a complex system composed of many cell types. Stem cells can be used to mimic the cellular components of cancer cell microenvironment. Micro-/nanotechnology can be used to construct 3-D microenvironments and deliver diagnostic and therapeutic agents. The established 3-D tumor model will bridge the conventional 2-D culture and animal experiments for cancer research, anti-cancer drug screening, and novel diagnostic and therapeutics testing.

In summary, the marriage of nanotechnology and stem cell biology will provide a new avenue to address challenges in cancer research. This exciting frontier is expected to lead to transformative change in the way we diagnose and treat cancer.

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