Research Highlights

Mussel glue helps stem cells affix and remain…New medical treatments anticipated for myocardial infarction and damaged organs

2019-03-19 565

[Professor Hyung Joon Cha and his research team developed a novel stem cell carrier by utilizing coacervate micro-droplets]


A stem cell is almighty that can differentiate into any type of cells or tissues in the body system. It is highlighted as a future therapy because it can fundamentally help damaged tissues to regenerate. However, it was difficult to deliver stem cells to the desired tissue site and have them remain under body fluid-rich environment. In this regard, what the research team developed with mussel adhesive proteins has gained academia’s attention in that this new technology enables stem cells deliver to the desired tissue site and retain cells at the injected site for a long period of time.

The research team led by Professor Hyung Joon Cha in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Pohang University of Science and Technology developed a liquid adhesive stem cell carrier that can easily deliver and retain stem cells through an injection to the target surface in the body by using coacervate platform. It is consisted of mussel adhesive protein which is derived from protein glue secreted by mussels to affix themselves underwater and hyaluronic acid which is a component of extracellular matrix. This new stem cell carrier is expected to play an essential role in delivering stem cells in the body and enhancing therapeutic efficacy by using biocompatible materials, harmless to human body.

For a successful stem cell therapy, two conditions are prerequisite: precise delivery of stem cells efficiently to a target organ and support for cell retention under body fluid-rich environment for a sufficient time. However, no development so far has been able to have transplanted stem cells successfully delivered to and retained in a target organ.

The research team employed the complex coacervate production formation process between mussel adhesive protein and hyaluronic acid. It enables to capture encapsulate stem cells inside of coacervate micro-droplets, to precisely and efficiently deliver stem cells to a desired organ, to prevent the collapse and detachment of stem cells from the target organ, and to have cell retention at the target site for a long period of time.

The stem cells encapsulated in the coacervate platform formed three dimensional cell clusters. The physiological changes of the stem cells induced its superior viability not only in a normal body system but also under hypoxia environment. Furthermore, it was demonstrated their enhanced differentiation capabilities and angiogenesis which is essential in tissue regeneration.

“Our research is significant that mussel adhesive protein is used for the first time to verify applicability as a stem cell therapeutic tool. It can be successfully applied to chronic and ischemic diseases, such as myocardial infarction, that need stem cell therapies.” Professor Cha who led the research, commented with his anticipation.

With reference to the research, more details can be found in the research article recently published on the website of Acta Biomaterialia, the world-renowned journal in the field of biomaterials science. The research was financially supported by the Marine Biomaterials Research Center grant from Marine Biotechnology Program of the Korea Institute of Marine Science and Technology Promotion funded by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Korea.