Novel Hydrogel Delivers Healing Stem Cells to Injured Elderly Muscles

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Researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology developed a new nano-hydrogel capable of boosting muscle growth in mouse models.

The treatment of severe muscle injuries that won’t heal is often done with muscle stem cells from a donor. Although the process restores damaged tissue, the process has several complications. Now, a hydrogel based on molecular matrix is developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The nano-hydrogel delivers muscle satellite cells (MuSCs) –a type of muscle stem cells, directly to injured muscle tissue in patients that are unable to regenerate the cells. The hydrogel experimented on mice, boosted the healing process while protecting the stem cells from harsh immune reactions. The method was successful in muscle tissue deficient-mice, which is similar to Duchenne muscular dystrophy in humans characterized by progressive muscular weakness. The research was published in Science Advances on August 15, 2018.

A muscle injury attracts immune cells to repair damage. However, immune cells release a lot of toxic chemicals in dystrophic or aged muscles. The cytokines and free radicals released eliminate the new stem cells, which results in only between 1 and 20% of injected MuSCs that reach the damaged tissues. Moreover, these MuSCs are weak and some damaged tissues do not facilitate injection, requiring new delivery strategies.

The novel hydrogel protects the stem cells and allows multiplication of these cells inside the matrix. The cells engraft onto the tissues to heal when the gel is applied to injured muscle. The hydrogel when added to stem cells or a drug a matrix is formed that ensnares the treatment for better delivery. Moreover, the matrix protects the payload from death or dissipation in the body. The hydrogel can be easily and reliably synthesized and custom-engineered by tweaking the components. The gel is biocompatible and biodegradable. The research was funded by National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

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