About this Research Topic
The stem cell niche is a precisely organized microenvironment, mostly constituted by Extracellular Matrix (ECM) components, and is able to direct the fate of stem cells by means of specific signals. The ECM responds to different body needs by influencing the behavior of stem cells through a plethora of physical and/or biochemical stimuli in order to actively adapt to injuries and tissue damages. The current research focuses on these physiological mechanisms aiming to study pathological conditions and tackle specific diseases and traumas.
Recently, materials scientists have directed their research efforts to mimic and use to their advantage some of the stimuli that stem cell feel in vivo under various conditions. It becomes therefore essential to understand these mechanisms and provide the stem cells in the host (i.e., the patient) with suitable signals when new regenerative medicine approaches are proposed. By this way the tissue remodeling/regeneration progression will in turn accelerate while graft‐versus‐host reactions (immune and fibrotic responses) will be minimized. Two different strategies follow this direction: 1) the employment of smart drug delivery approaches for providing a proper panel of biochemical stimuli and allowing a physiological cell differentiation process, and 2) the use of intelligent implants, with microenvironment-adaptable biochemical/physical features. Both strategies tend to boost the physiological healing processes by triggering cell-specific responses at a molecular level and enhancing the scaffold integration with the surrounding tissues.
Significantly, in these therapeutic strategies as well as basic research studies, a high number of stem cells are required to properly manufacture and characterize stem cell-based therapeutic products. Indeed, it is well-known that stem cells grown in vitro preserve their “stemness” properties for a very limited time. After few replication passages their replicative potential is lost and/or their pluripotency function is compromised, leading to a non-homogeneous cell population. New systems and materials to enhance stem cell expansion capabilities and preserve their “stemness” characteristics after multiple passages are now under study. If these approaches success, stem cell therapy will become a clinically viable strategy. In addition, following the recent findings in the field of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), major thrusts are placed on the reprogramming process of terminally differentiated cells, aiming to obtain massive stem cell sources for further clinical studies and therapies.
This Research Topic aim to give important insights from leading research groups in this field, describing how materials with different physical, chemical and biological properties can drive stem cell fate for different purposes.
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