Fat Stem Cells Turn to Muscle: A Treatment for Muscular Dystrophy?

New research published in the journal Biomaterials by University of California, San Diego researcher Adam Engler suggests fat-derived stem cells that are developed on a stiff surface transform into mature muscle cells. This remarkable discovery could lead to new treatments for muscular dystrophy in the future.

Fat stem cells and bone marrow stem cells were grown on surfaces with different degrees of hardness ranging from very hard bone-like surfaces to very soft brain tissue-like surfaces.

The researchers found that the fat derived stem cells were much more likely (up to fifty times) to exhibit proteins that are essential to the cells becoming muscle tissue.
Yuk Suk Choi, a post-doc team member, says that the fat-derived stem cells seem to proliferate better than bone marrow cells when introduced to the hard surfaces. “They are actively feeling their environment soon, which allows them to interpret the signals from the interaction of cell and environment that guide development,” explained Choi.

Unlike bone marrow stem cells, stem cells from fat fused together to form myotubes. Although this phenomenon has been observed in the past, it has never been observed at such a high degree by Engler in the lab. Myotubes comprise an essential step in muscle formation.

Next, Engler and his team plan to observe how fused cells from fat perform in lab mice which are afflicted with a particular form of muscular dystrophy.

However, Dr. Engler cautioned, “From the perspective of translating this into a clinically viable therapy, we want to know what components of the environment provide the most important cues for these cells.”

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