Guiding light: directing stem cells towards injuries

Using nano devices in cells to activate the receptors responsible for the growth and movement of cells through infrared light in order to treat injuries

Imagine if doctors could have a remote control to guide the stem cells to the injured points of the body to speed up the healing process of the patients. The remote control is still far from reality, but a group of Chinese researchers have taken an important step forward in the study of stem cells and their regenerative properties.

In the study published in the journal Nano Letters, Professor Wang Hong-Hui and Nie Zhou of Hunan University explain how they managed to use nano devices in cells to activate the receptors responsible for the growth and movement of cells through infrared light.

Cellular activities are coordinated by complex signaling pathways, which control their movement, proliferation and even death. Signaling molecules bind to the receptor tyrosine kinases proteins – present on the cell surface – triggering the formation of receptor pairs (MET), which cause the cell to move or grow.

The research team designed a DNA molecule that can bind to two MET receptors simultaneously, connecting and activating them. To make them sensitive to infrared light, scientists have tied copies of DNA sequences to gold nano rods. These, when illuminated by infrared light, heat up and release the DNA, which in turn activates the receptors. In this way, stem cells migrate to the injured area, concentrating their regenerative capacity there.

The researchers injected the DNA-bound nano rods into laboratory mice near the injured area, and then illuminated it with infrared light for a few minutes. Three days later, muscle stem cell migration to the wound was recorded and treated mice showed more signs of muscle regeneration than untreated mice.

This new discovery therefore offers a powerful and versatile platform for exogenous modulation of deep tissue in regenerative medicine.

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