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August 16, 2005

NC State Biomedical Engineers Conduct Unique Stem Cell Research

  — A new discovery and new process for stem cell research is aimed at helping people with skeletal defects

Dr. Elizabeth Loboa (left) and graduate student Ariel Hanson set up the microfluidic device used to apply shear stress to human mesenchymal stem cells seeded in a poly-l-lactic acid (PLLA) scaffold. (Photo: Roger Winstead)

Coaxing stem cells to become bone tissue is one of many potential applications of stem cell research that is being explored around the world. At North Carolina State University, Dr. Elizabeth Loboa’s research uses a unique approach to create bone tissue from adult stem cells.

Post-doctoral fellow Michelle Wall (right) and Dr. Elizabeth Loboa observe images that indicate palladin is located in human mesenchymal stem cells. Loboa's team was the first to prove that palladin is present in these cells. (Photo: Roger Winstead)

In the Cell Mechanics Laboratory at NC State, Loboa, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and her research assistants use fluid shear stress applied to human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) that have been seeded into a polymeric scaffold to grow bone tissue. Mechanical loading, such as applying fluid shear stress, is a key factor in functional tissue engineering of bone. However, research on mechanical loading using this method has typically focused on macrofluidic devices. Loboa and her team in a collaboration with Dr. Glenn Walker, an expert in microfluidics, are testing the use of microfluidic devices as a means to apply fluid shear stress to mesenchymal stem cells seeded in three-dimensional (3D) scaffolds. Microfluidics could more easily enable researchers to analyze multiple shear stresses simultaneously by allowing them to compare data from parallel tests concurrently while lowering costs through reducing the amount of media, scaffold material, and the number of cells needed for each shear stress experiment.

Dr. Elizabeth Loboa (left), graduate student Wayne Pfeiler and post-doctoral fellow Michelle Wall study images that indicate palladin is located in human mesenchymal stem cells. Loboa's team was the first to prove that palladin is present in these cells. (Photo: Roger Winstead)

Their most recent research studied the effects of fluid shear stresses on hMSCs seeded in three-dimensional (3D) poly-l-lactic acid (PLLA) scaffolds in a flow perfusion microfluidic chamber. They found that the cells were able to survive and grow on the PLLA scaffold in the microfluidic device while exposed to fluid shear stress. Results were presented at the 2005 Summer Bioengineering Conference held June 22-26 in Vail, Colo.

The PLLA scaffolds were designed by Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi, the William A. Klopman Distinguished Endowed Chaired Professor and associate dean for industry research and extension for the College of Textiles at NC State. The scaffolds provide a biocompatible form for the cells to adhere to during growth and provide mechanical stability during the formation of new bone tissue.

“If mesenchymal stem cells can be harvested from the patient and used to create replacement bone tissue, the resulting replacement bone would be completely compatible with the native bone, avoiding rejection and other issues such as lack of autologous bone tissue for harvesting associated with present-day bone tissue replacements,” said Loboa.

Loboa’s team also announced a breakthrough in hMSC research at the conference. Her team is the first in the world to prove that palladin, a protein associated with the actin cytoskeleton, is present in mesenchymal stem cells. Since palladin is important in cytoskeletal organization, the team believes that this discovery could lead to clues about how mechanical stimuli modulate hMSC differentiation into bone.

“Eventually this research could lead to the development of a process to grow bone to replace damaged or lost bone in patients with osteoporosis or other skeletal defects,” said Loboa. “One of the problems with these degenerative bone diseases is the loss of mobility. We hope that by giving patients new bone that matches their native bone, we can restore some of their mobility.”

The hMSCs used in Loboa’s lab are harvested from bone and bone marrow from patients at UNC hospitals and from fat tissue harvested during surgeries also performed by UNC surgeons.

— weston —

Technical contact:
Dr. Elizabeth Loboa, (919) 513-4015,

Media contact:
Jennifer Weston, (919) 515-3848,

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