Purdue animal science professor Shihuan Kuang has discovered a new subset of stem cells that researchers hope could lead to more knowledge about muscular diseases and possible treatments for disorders such as muscular dystrophy.
With the help of a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, Kuang’s research will continue in an effort to better understand the origin and function of these stem cells, which Kuang has named immunomyoblasts.
“Such knowledge will inform specific strategies to effectively target this cell population to boost the body’s ability to regenerate injured muscles,” Kuang said.
Immunomyoblasts have properties of both muscle stem cells and immune cells. Kuang said this finding will hopefully allow researchers to understand how these two types of cells interact.
Kuang and his team made their discovery through a process called single-cell RNA sequencing and analyzed over fifty thousand cells.
“While looking at these fifty thousand-some cells, it came to our attention that a subset of muscle stem cells uniquely expresses immune genes only during muscle regeneration,” Kuang said.
“While prior studies by others have shown that muscle stem cells could express immune genes,” Kuang added. “It was never reported that the immune gene expression is specifically enriched in a small subset of the stem cells.”
The next step is understanding where these stem cells originate.
Using a process called cell lineage will allow the team to understand if these are from a type of existing muscle cell that can infiltrate immune cells.
Kuang will also explore the exact function and purpose of immunomyoblasts.
“We will try to identify the specific types of immunes that the immunomyoblast interact with and determine how disruption of such interaction affects muscle regeneration,” Kuang said.
Stem cell use is generally intended to replace cells and body tissue. Stem cells have been used to replace cells that have been damaged so that a person’s immune system can fight diseases like cancer or blood-related conditions.