Stem Cell Biology
The capacity of human adult stem cells to differentiate into bone and cartilaginous cell types is known since decades and has been proven in a large variety of experimental settings. However, the exact mechanism of stem cell osteo- and chondrogenesis is still poorly understood. The research division of stem cell biology aims at unraveling key molecular pathways that mediate in vitro generation of cartilage and bone tissue in human stem cell culture systems. With regard to a future osteoarticular repair in vivo approach, these novel insights are expected to allow for the identification of specific molecular targets that may be modulated to enhance the quality of in vitro engineered tissue.
In general, current research projects encompass the investigation of environmental cues on stem cell differentiation and of intracellular signal transduction cascades that are triggered by those stimuli. For instance, the variation of oxygen tension and the stimulation of proliferation rates are tested whereas Wnt and Hedgehog signaling represent pathways that are focused on. Additional emphasis is set on the question if respective alterations of differentiation protocols shift the stem cell conversion towards a more physiological sequence that can be observed during early embryonic development of bone and cartilage tissue.
Recapitulating this naturally occurring process may represent a key strategy to enable the generation of superior in vitro engineered tissue that exhibits substantial performance advantages in osteoarticular repair approaches. The complexity of these cellular processes results in considerable challenges regarding their analysis. For that reason, state-of-the-art molecular biology assays, genetic engineering technologies and individually developed read-out methods are routinely applied within the stem cell biology group.