Japanese researchers have developed a technique to reshape living cells into thread form, which could prove to be a boon to transplants one day.
By giving three-dimensional form to the thread-shaped cells by bundling or wrapping them into a spherical shape, researchers hope to use the technology in the future to create muscle tissue and blood vessels for use in regenerative medicine.
The research group was led by Shoji Takeuchi, an associate professor specializing in micromechanisms at the Institute of Industrial Science, which is part of the University of Tokyo.
Researchers used collagen to serve as a glue to connect the cells. Cells mixed with collagen were poured into a glass tube and shaped into thread form with a thickness as fine as human hair. The cells were covered by a thin membrane made from plant fiber, but the cells could move and multiply within that membrane.
The thread-shaped cells were used to create rat heart tissue cells which were capable of contracting.
In another experiment, thread-shaped cells created from rat pancreatic islet cells were transplanted into the kidney of a mouse with diabetes. That led to a decrease in blood sugar levels, which eventually dropped to normal levels.
Other attempts were made to create thread-shaped cells from blood vessel and nerve cells.
A future application of the technology might involve transplanting thread-shaped cells through an injection rather than putting a patient through the ordeal of surgery to receive a transplant.
If the cells were no longer needed, they could be removed by simply pulling on a thread.
Takeuchi said, "In the future, the cells might be used in cartridge form for transplants."
The results of the research were posted on the Internet version of Nature Materials on April 1.
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