"Cell glue" helps regenerate tissue and heal wounds | An important step towards building tissues and organs

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According to new research published in the journal Nature, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have designed a molecule similar to "cell glue" that allows them to precisely instruct cells to bond with each other. The achievement marks an important step toward building tissues and organs, a long-sought goal of regenerative medicine.

Adhesion molecules are ubiquitous in the human body, bringing tens of trillions of cells together in a highly ordered manner to form specific structures, create neuronal circuits, and guide immune cells to their targets. This adhesion also facilitates communication between cells, allowing the body to function as a self-regulating whole.

This time, researchers designed cells containing customized adhesion molecules that can bind to specific partner cells in a predictable manner to form complex multi-cell assemblages.



“We can design collections of cells in a controlled way, controlling the nature of how different cells interact with each other,” said Dr. Wendell Lin, director of the UCSF Cell Design Institute. “This opens up new opportunities for building tissues and organs. Waiting for new structures to open the door.”

Body tissues and organs begin forming while the fetus is still in the womb and continue to develop during childhood. By adulthood, many of the molecular instructions guiding these processes have disappeared, and some tissues, such as nerves, are unable to heal from injury or disease. Researchers hope to overcome this by engineering somatic cells to make new connections. But to do this requires the ability to precisely engineer how cells interact.

To guide the quality of the cells' binding, the researchers designed their adhesion molecules into two parts. One part of the molecule acts as a receptor on the outside of the cell, determining which cells it will interact with; the second part is on the inside of the cell, regulating the strength of the bonds formed. The two parts can be mixed and matched in a modular fashion to create a customized set of cells that combine various cell types in different ways.



Cell adhesion is a key development in the evolution of animals and other multicellular organisms, and tailoring adhesion molecules may provide a deeper understanding of how the evolutionary path from single-cell to multicellular organisms began.

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