Silly Putty Ingredient Could Advance Stem Cell Therapies Say Scientists

Posted on April 18, 2014

Stem Cells growing on a carpet made from a Silly Putty ingredient


Scientists at the University of Michigan say an ingredient in Silly Putty could help advance stem cell therapies. The researchers report that they coaxed human embryonic stem cells to turn into working spinal cord cells more efficiently by growing the cells on a soft, utrafine carpet made of a key ingredient in Silly Putty, an easily malleable and stretachable toy that can also lift ink from petroleum based newsprint. The Silly Putty component polydimethylsiloxane serves as the threads of the "carpets" the researchers developed.

The researchers were able to vary the microscopic posts of the carpets using polydimethylsiloxane. They found that stem cells that grew on the tall, softer micropost carpets turned into nerve cells faster and more often that those growing on stiffer surfaces. They also found stem cells growing on the softer micropost carpets were four times more pure and ten times larger than those grown on traditional or rigid carpets. This is the first research to link physical signals to human embryonic stem cell differentiation. The U-M team says the findings could lead to a more efficient method for guiding stem cells to differentiate.

Fu says in the announcement, "This is extremely exciting. To realize promising clinical applications of human embryonic stem cells, we need a better culture system that can reliably produce more target cells that function well. Our approach is a big step in that direction, by using synthetic microengineered surfaces to control mechanical environmental signals."

The research was published here in Nature Materials.

Image: Ye Tao, Rose Anderson, Yubing Sun, and Jianping Fu