Scientists have for the first time identified stem cells capable of repairing skull and face bones in mice, an advance that may lead to new stem-cell therapies for craniofacial bone repair in future.
According to Wei Hsu, professor at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in US, the goal is to better understand and find stem-cell therapy for a condition known as craniosynostosis, a skull deformity in infants.
Craniosynostosis often leads to developmental delays and life-threatening elevated pressure in the brain.
The findings contribute to an emerging field involving tissue engineering that uses stem cells and other materials to invent superior ways to replace damaged craniofacial bones in humans due to congenital disease, trauma, or cancer surgery, researchers said.
For years researchers, including the study’s lead author Takamitsu Maruyama, focused on the function of the Axin2 gene and a mutation that causes craniosynostosis in mice.
Because of a unique expression pattern of the Axin2 gene in the skull, the lab then began investigating the activity of Axin2-expressing cells and their role in bone formation, repair and regeneration.
Their latest evidence shows that stem cells central to skull formation are contained within Axin2 cell populations, comprising about 1 per cent – and that the lab tests used to uncover the skeletal stem cells might also be useful to find bone diseases caused by stem cell abnormalities.
The team also confirmed that this population of stem cells is unique to bones of the head, and that separate and distinct stem cells are responsible for formation of long bones in the legs and other parts of the body, for example.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.