Music for stem cells: how soundwaves could help regrow bones

Tuesday, 22 February, 2022

Music for stem cells: how soundwaves could help regrow bones

Researchers from the RMIT University have used high-frequency soundwaves to turn stem cells into bone cells, in a tissue engineering development that could one day help patients regrow bone lost to cancer or degenerative disease.

A key challenge in regrowing bone is the need for large amounts of bone cells that will thrive and flourish once implanted in the target area.

To date, experimental processes to change adult stem cells into bone cells have struggled with mass production, making widespread clinical application unrealistic, according to RMIT researchers. Additionally, the few clinical trials attempting to regrow bone have largely used stem cells extracted from a patient’s bone marrow.

RMIT research team have showed that stem cells treated with high-frequency soundwaves turned into bone cells quickly and efficiently. Importantly, the treatment was effective on multiple types of cells including fat-derived stem cells, which are far less painful to extract from a patient.

Dr Amy Gelmi, Co-lead researcher and a Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at RMIT, said, “The soundwaves cut the treatment time usually required to get stem cells to begin to turn into bone cells by several days.

“This method also doesn’t require any special ‘bone-inducing’ drugs and it’s very easy to apply to the stem cells.

“Our study found this new approach has strong potential to be used for treating the stem cells, before we either coat them onto an implant or inject them directly into the body for tissue engineering.”

The high-frequency soundwaves used in the stem cell treatment were generated on a low-cost microchip device developed by RMIT.

Co-lead researcher Distinguished Professor Leslie Yeo and his team have spent over a decade researching the interaction of soundwaves at frequencies above 10 MHz with different materials.

The soundwave-generating device they developed can be used to precisely manipulate cells, fluids or materials.

“We can use the soundwaves to apply just the right amount of pressure in the right places to the stem cells, to trigger the change process,” Yeo said.

“Our device is cheap and simple to use, so could easily be upscaled for treating large numbers of cells simultaneously — vital for effective tissue engineering.”

The next stage in the research is investigating methods to upscale the platform, working towards the development of practical bioreactors to drive efficient stem cell differentiation.

The multidisciplinary research, across the RMIT schools of Science and Engineering, was supported by funding through Australian Research Council Discovery Project grants.

Image caption: Magnified image showing adult stem cells in the process of turning into bone cells after treatment with high-frequency soundwaves. Green colouring shows the presence of collagen, which the cells produce as they become bone cells. Credit: RMIT University

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