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Archive - Mar 20, 2017

Parsley, Orchids, and Other Plants Lend Form to Human Stem Cell Scaffolds

Borrowing from nature is an age-old theme in science. Form and function go hand-in-hand in the natural world and the structures created by plants and animals are only rarely improved on by humans. Taking that lesson to heart, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are using the decellularized husks of plants such as parsley, vanilla, and orchids to form three-dimensional scaffolds that can then be primed and seeded with human stem cells to optimize their growth in the lab dish and, ultimately, create novel biomedical implants. In an article published online on March 20, 2017 in Advanced Healthcare Materials, a team led by William Murphy, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical engineering and co-director of the UW-Madison Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, describes the use of a variety of plants to create an efficient, inexpensive, and scalable technology for making tiny structures that could one day be used to repair muscle, organs, and bone using stem cells. The article is titled “Biofunctionalized Plants as Diverse Biomaterials for Human Cell Culture.” "Nature provides us with a tremendous reservoir of structures in plants," explains Dr. Gianluca Fontana, the lead author of the new study and a UW-Madison postdoctoral fellow. "You can pick the structure you want." The new technology capitalizes on the elegant, efficient structural qualities of plants: strength, rigidity, porosity, low mass and, importantly, surface area. It may help overcome the limitations of current methods such as 3-D printing and injection molding to create feedstock structures for biomedical applications. "Plants are really special materials as they have a very high surface area to volume ratio, and their pore structure is uniquely well-designed for fluid transport," says Dr. Murphy.

Approach Based on Extracellular Vesicles (EVs) May Enable Earlier Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer, one of the nation’s deadliest diseases, kills 80 percent of those diagnosed within one year, but an Arizona State University researcher has devised an early detection technique that could help improve those odds, according to a new study. Biomedical Engineering professor Tony Hu, Ph.D., of the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, and colleagues, in research published online on February 8, 2016 in Nature: Biomedical Engineering, describe a method for finding tiny bubbles of material called extracellular vesicles (EVs), which can identify pancreatic cancer in its initial stages. “Pancreatic cancer is one type of cancer we desperately need an early blood biomarker for,” Dr. Hu said. Typically, pancreatic cancer, which kills about 40,000 people a year, has few symptoms, spreads quickly, and isn’t diagnosed until it’s in an advanced stage. Approximately 95 percent of patients die within five years of diagnosis. “Other technology has been used for detection, but it doesn’t work very well because of the nature of this cancer,” Dr. Hu said. “It’s really hard to capture an early diagnostic signal when there are no symptoms. It’s not like breast cancer, where you may feel pain and you can easily check for an abnormal growth.” Dr. Hu’s research, a pilot study involving nearly 160 people, showed the ability to differentiate patients with pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, and healthy subjects. If proven effective on a larger scale, it could lead to a screening exam that could save lives. Further, the technique may ultimately be used to detect a range of diseases based on their unique EV signatures. (Dr.