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Tracking transplanted stem cells

23 February 2011

Professor Bing SongProfessor Bing Song

Transplanted stem cells which can grow new tissue have emerged as a promising new treatment for spinal cord injuries.

However, there is no effective way to check on the progress of the cells once they have been transplanted into the body.

Now, a team from Cardiff and University College London have developed a method of "tagging" cells with nanoparticles and tracking the tagged cells invasively post-transplantation.

The team labelled stem cells with hollow cobalt nanoparticles which were injected into the spinal cord. The magnetic nanoparticles could be detected invasively by an MRI scanner two weeks later – without affecting the stem cells themselves. The nanoparticles have a high tendency to align with a magnetic field, meaning that low concentrations can be picked up by an MRI scanner.

The Cardiff part of the research was led by Professor Bing Song of the School of Dentistry. His team was responsible for transplanting the stem cells labelled with the nanoparticles developed at UCL, and characterizing the stem cells functions post-transplantation.

Professor Song said: "There is a lot of interest in using neural stem cells to repair central nervous system diseases including spinal injuries. However, there has been no reliable non-invasive technique which can monitor the cells. The nanoparticle we have developed is stable, is easily tracked and will not harm the transplanted cells in any way. It gives us hope we can develop techniques to observe the behaviour of stem cells in regenerative treatments."

The team’s findings have just been published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Nanoscale. Professor Song’s research was supported by the European Research Council and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship Award.

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