Martin Knight and his colleagues from the Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science and the Institute of Bioengineering in London, UK have shown that growing adult stem cells on micro-grooved surfaces disrupts a particular biochemical pathway that specified the length of a cellular structure called the “primary cilium.” Disruption of the primary cilium ultimately controls the subsequent behavior of these stem cells.
Primary cilia are about one thousand times narrower than a human hair. They are found in most cells and even though they were thought to be irrelevant at one time, this is clearly not the case.
The primary cilium acts as a sensory structure that responds to mechanical and chemical stimuli in the environment, and then communicates that external signal to the interior of the cell. Most of the basic research on this structure was done using a single-celled alga called Chlamydomonas.
Martin Knight and his team, however, are certain that primary cilia in adult stem cells play a definite role in controlling cell differentiation. Knight said, “Our research shows that they [primary cilia] play a key role in stem cell differentiation. We found it’s possible to control stem cell specialization by manipulating primary cilia elongation, and that this occurs when stem cells are grown on these special grooved surfaces.”
When mesenchymal stromal cells were grown on grooved surfaces, the tension inside the cells was altered, and this remodeled the cytoskeleton of the cells. Cytoskeleton refers to a rigid group of protein inside of cells that act as “rebar.” for the cell. If you have ever worked with concrete, you will know that structural use of concrete requires the use of reinforcing metal bars to prevent the concrete from crumbling under the force of its own weight. In the same way, cytoskeletal proteins reinforce the cell, give it shape, help it move, and help it resist shear forces. Remodeling of the cytoskeleton can greatly change the behavior of the cell.
The primary cilium is important for stem cell differentiation. Growing mesenchymal stromal cells on micro-grooved surfaces disrupts the primary cilium and prevents stem cell differentiation. This simple culture technique can help maintain stem cells in an undifferentiated state until they have expanded enough for therapeutic purposes.
Once again we that there are ways to milk adult stem cells for all they are worth. Destroying embryos is simply not necessary to save the lives of patients.