Fluorescence microscopic image shows rat neural stem cells (blue with DAPI nuclear staining) cultured on functionalized nanofiber scaffold (green). Credit: G. Christopherson, X.Y. Liu, H.J. Song, and H.Q. Mao/Johns Hopkins
Cells can be controlled in culture, but once they are placed inside the body their environment – and the probability of their survival and growth – changes. Neuroscientist Hongjun Song and materials engineer Hai-Quan Mao at Johns Hopkins are investigating nanofiber scaffolds that can create artificial 3-D local environments for neural stem cells.
Song and Mao have developed nanofibers to which they can attach adult neural stem cells by first binding bioreactive proteins. The nanofiber scaffolds provide an environment for neural stem cells to grow, proliferate, and develop.
“One of the benefits of using nanofibers is the ability to have successful cell self-renewal without requiring a high concentration of growth factors,“ says Song.
The collaborators are exploring new projects together and have recently started to expand their initial work to include embryonic stem cells. Song says stem cell science has much to offer biology. “By studying the mechanisms of stem cell behavior, we can learn how cells do it: what is happening in the body, how an animal can start with one cell type and develop specificity,“ he explains.
“Eventually, stem cells will be very important for treating disease using cell replacement therapy, but more immediately stem cells offer the opportunity to model human disease and find ways to screen for therapeutic drugs to treat the disease.“
Song is assistant professor of neurology and neuroscience, faculty member of the Institute for Cell Engineering and the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins, and member of the Johns Hopkins Stem Cell Policy and Ethics Program. Mao is assistant professor of materials science and engineering and faculty member of the Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute and the Institute for NanoBioTechnology at Johns Hopkins.