Stem Cell Magic

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Red sinew-like cell with blue circle in middle

Red sinew-like cell with blue circle in middle. Courtesy Samira Musah, graduate student, UW-Madison department of chemistry

This muscle cell was derived from human embryonic stem cells propagated on a synthetic hydrogel scaffold. The cell’s alpha smooth muscle actin is stained red and the nucleus blue.

Hydrogels are networks of hydrophilic, or water soluble, polymer chains that are used for tissue engineering. They are useful for the creation of microenvironments to support cell growth and differentiation. Because their elasticity mimics that of natural tissue, scientists design them to replicate the physical and mechanical properties of tissues such as the brain, muscle and heart.