Year 3

During this funding period we have identified many molecules that can bind to stem cells. When stem cells are cultured with these cells, we have found that some of the molecules induce the stem cells to differentiate while others induce them to proliferate but not differentiate. We will continue to characterize these ligands. We have also dramatically improved our methodologies to identify new stem cell-binding molecules. We are now incorporating stem cell-binding small molecules into hydrogels to characterize the effects of these ligands on stem cells in a 3D culture system.

We have also demonstrated that several parameters of the 3D hydrogel cultures can be “tuned” to achieve optimal results, i.e. controlled stem cell differentiation. In addition, to our extensive experimentation with cultured stem cells, we have started to characterize the properties of our hydrogels when implanted into an animal model, and have been able to control the degradation rates within the animals. Those results demonstrated that we can “tune” hydrogels to degrade at different rates. This technology can be incorporated into a variety of Stem Cell applications. We have also started to incorporating stem cell-binding molecules into hydrogels and have tested their ability to increase the rate of wound healing. From these experiments, it appears that our functionalized hydrogels containing our synthetic molecules are able to increase the rate of wound healing. Another fascinating finding is that our stem cell-binding small molecules appear to be able to alter the differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells when they are incorporated into 3D cultures.