University of Southern California researcher Songtao Shi and his colleagues experiment with stem cells that can regenerate bone and skin tissue.
If Songtao Shi’s latest discovery ever reaches Southern California clinics, “Oh, she’s had a stem cell job,” may one day replace the ubiquitous “She’s had work done” as a tabloid euphemism for the efforts of the well-heeled to turn back the clock.
Shi, a researcher at USC’s Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology, and colleagues at dental schools in Korea and China have discovered that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are capable of regenerating facial bone and skin tissue in mouse and swine models.
While there remains much to learn, their work published in the April 2007 issue of the journal Stem Cells points to a future in which MSCs become a plastic surgeon’s weapon of choice for everything from repairing severe facial disfigurement to removing wrinkles.
“It’s very exciting,” Shi said. “It is fundamentally different from current techniques. At this point it is just a concept, but in the future it may change the way we do plastic surgery.”
The research employs MSCs derived from two sources. To construct orofacial bone tissue, Shi and colleagues utilized MSCs extracted from human bone marrow and transplanted them into the frontal skull.
After eight weeks, a pronounced expansion of the skull was readily visible. Tests of this new tissue showed it was healthy and fully integrated into existing bone.
Even more remarkably, the new bone tissue showed evidence of homeostasis – the process by which red and white blood cells are created.
“This is very important. This is not an implant. This is an extension of the body. These cells have the ability to work with and organize existing cells and tissue,” Shi said.
Their second technique relied on MSCs derived from the periodontal ligament. Introducing these stem cells into the facial wrinkles of a mouse model, Shi and colleagues found that the periodontal ligament MSCs eliminated the wrinkles through the production of new collagen fibers.
Shi hopes to improve his initial results by experimenting with delivery methods – the stem cells have varying degrees of success based upon the material used to serve as a scaffold. He also hopes to investigate the potential of autologous stem cells, those derived from the animal’s own tissue, to improve clinical results.
“There are many potential applications for these techniques,” Shi said. “There is still so much that we don’t understand fully. It is clear that we need more studies to explore new therapies and improve clinical consequences.”
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