In a first of its kind study, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have developed a technique that transports therapeutic stem cells in a multilayer microcapsule that not only protects the cells from being attacked by the body's immune system but also enables them to be seen on X-ray.
Using microcapsules, dubbed XCaps, that are visible using X-ray imaging techniques, the researchers were able to track the delivery, survival, and function of donor stem cells used to treat cardiovascular disease in rabbits.
"In acute ischemia, you don't have the luxury of taking stem cells from the body and waiting two to three weeks to culture and expand them in the laboratory," says Dara L. Kraitchman, V.M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of radiology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
"Ideally, we'd like to be able to take donor cells off the shelf, make them x-ray visible, protect them from the immune system, and deliver them precisely where we want them to be," Kraitchman says.
The researchers created the XCaps by coating donor stem cells with layers of alginate, a compound that provokes little immune response; barium, a contrast agent that makes the microcapsule X-ray visible; and poly-L-lysine, which holds the microcapsule together. The outer coating is made up of another layer of alginate.
"The nice thing about XCaps is that you can see each individual capsule very clearly on x-ray," says Dr. Kenyatta Cosby, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins. "We also observed no accumulation of fibrous material around the capsules, which suggests a minimal immune response."
"Since XCaps can be made using FDA-approved clinical-grade compounds, they represent the first potentially biocompatible therapy that will enable X-ray visualization of stem cells to assist in targeting cellular therapeutics," Kraitchman says.
Other members of the Hopkins research team include Aravind Arepally, M.D., Brad Barnett, J.W.M. Bulte, Ph.D., Wesley Gilson, Ph.D., Gary Huang, Grigorios Korosoglou, M.D., and Lawrence Hofmann, M.D. from Stanford University in California.