For the first time, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York have identified and isolated a population of stem cells that can form and repair skull and face bone in mice, according to a statement. The discovery is a pivotal step toward using stem cells for reconstructing face and skull bones in humans.
The complete findings of the study appear in the latest issue of Nature Communications.
According to senior author Wei Hsu, Ph.D., dean’s professor of Biomedical Genetics and a scientist at the Eastman Institute for Oral Health at the University of Rochester Medical Center, the primary objective of the study was to gain a better understanding of, and locate a stem cell therapy for, a skull deformity in infants called craniosynostosis. The condition can lead to developmental delays and potentially fatal pressure levels in the brain.
The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and New York State Stem Cell Science (NYSTEM), adds to the growing field of tissue engineering, which includes the manipulation of stem cells to replace face and skull bones damaged by disease or trauma.
For several years, Hsu and his research team had analyzed the function of a gene called Axin2 and a mutation that causes craniosynostosis in mice. After discovering a unique expression pattern of the gene in the skull, the researchers then explored the activity of Axin2-expressing cells and how they factored into the formation, repair, and regeneration of bone in mice.
The new study shows that the stem cells critical to skull formation reside within Axin2 cell populations.
Interestingly, the research team was able to confirm that the stem cells within Axin2-expressing cell populations are distinct from those responsible for bone formation in other parts of the body.