3D technology aids study of muscle stem cells for treatments

Researchers are using three-dimensional technology to find stem cells that could help offer hope to patients with muscular dystrophy.

Studies at the University of Minnesota Medical School are using 3-D technology to identify optimal stem cells for transplantation, looking for specific types of stem cells that can be derived from muscle.

These sources of stem cells are less well understood than those derived from bone marrow and neural stem cells, says Atsushi Asakura, associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

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The new emphasis on looking for stem cells in skeletal muscle provides opportunities for treating severe muscle diseases such as muscular dystrophy, for which there is currently no cure. Asakura and Mayank Verma, a medical student at the University of Minnesota, are leading the study of this stem cell niche.

Skeletal muscle is the most abundant tissue in the body and is composed of several different types of cells, including satellite cells. Satellite cells are predominantly responsible for muscle regeneration, during normal day-to-day activities, as well as during severe muscle diseases like muscular dystrophy.

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Verma and Asakura studied the stem cells and blood vessels in large volumes in three dimensions using methods developed in the lab. This is the first time that imaging such as this has been applied so that the interaction between the two populations could be looked at from all different levels in a large number of cells.

This showed them that a subset of these stem cells were located close to the blood vessels and were likely to be the more potent stem cell population in the muscles that are maintained in the long run. "This could be very important for learning more about the role of these stem cells in aging and muscular dystrophy, and treatments in the future," Asakura says.

The University Imaging Centers were instrumental in the development of the imaging techniques as well as the analysis of the data which enabled researchers to view the satellite cells and blood vessels in new and groundbreaking ways.

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