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Silly Putty Could Help Us Grow Spinal Cords

May 04, 2015 12:48 AM EDT
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Stretchy and malleable Silly Putty appears to be useful in helping embryonic stem cells turn into working spinal cord cells, according to a past study.

No, this is not some belated April Fool's Day prank. Scientists from the University of Michigan have developed a way to use a key ingredient of Silly Putty to form "ultrafine carpets" on which working motor neurons are grown from embryonic stem cells. Researchers are calling this new technique far more efficient compared to past strategies to encourage differentiation - the changing of a stem cells to any other kind of cell.

According to a study published in the scientific journal Nature Materials, the Silly Putty ingredient polydimethylsiloxane - which gives the child's toy its stretchy nature - boosts the speed and rate at which embryonic stem cells differentiate.

After creating an adjustable carpet-like surface using the Silly Putty ingredient, researchers then analyzed the rate and frequency at which embryonic stem cells stimulated to become neural cells  differentiated. This data was compared to differentiation rates of cells grown of standard lab plates and even industrial-like surfaces.

Through this study the team also found that clumps of spinal cord cells that grew on plush-like surfaces were ten time larger and four times "purer" than cells grown on traditional plates. Interestingly, the plush-like surface-grown cells even demonstrated signaling behaviors similar to those of neurons found in the human body.

According to the authors of the study, the researchers are now working with doctors from the University of Michigan, using their efficient cell-growth technique to help develop new treatment for patients with Lou Gehrig's disease - a neural condition that continues to frustrate experts today.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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