Research at Illinois Institute of Technology could prove that the body sometimes just needs a boost to its cells in order to alleviate its ailments.
Rong Wang, professor of chemistry at Illinois Tech and the International Center for Sensor Science and Engineering director, is working to revitalize the body’s own tissue in order to restore the function of the pelvic floor and keep organs in their proper place.
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the pelvic floor fails to hold organs in place, which can cause sagging into the vaginal canal. Symptoms include pelvic pressure, backaches, urinary incontinence, and constipation. The condition only affects women.
Wang says collagen production contributes to the root cause of the condition as collagen is the most abundant structural protein in the connective tissue. As the body ages, it not only produces less collagen, but also the ratio of how two different types of collagens are produced changes. Collagen type III (COLIII) makes tissue flexible, and collagen type I (COLI) gives it strength.
“The body starts to produce less collagen at an unfavorable ratio of the collagen types, so the pelvic floor connective tissue becomes too fragile with poorly interdigitated tissue components; hence, it fails to bear the load,” Wang says. “Proper collagen production is needed to keep the pelvic floor connective tissue mechanically strong.”
Fibroblast cells produce both types of collagen. Wang’s research indicates that when fibroblast cells are rejuvenated they produce 20 to 80 times more collagen at a ratio of the collagen types that can facilitate the restoration of tissue flexibility and strength.
To accomplish this, fibroblasts are extracted from patients’ tissue, then seeded on electrospun silk-CNT fibers, which are aligned, conductive, stable, biodegradable, and nontoxic. When an electric field is applied, fibroblasts are stimulated to boost collagen productivity while reducing the abnormally high COLI/COLIII ratio. The stimulated cells are able to promote tissue remodeling, verified by a wound healing experiment. Potentially, the developed approach can be utilized to remedy the dysfunctional fibroblasts for therapeutic treatment of pelvic organ prolapse, as well as diseases and health conditions associated with collagen disorder.
“This procedure has advantages over stem-cell therapies,” Wang says. “Isolation, expansion, and differentiation of stem cells require complicated controls. They are time demanding, expensive, and subject to strict and increasing regulatory demands. Fibroblast cells are abundant and easy to harvest. The developed method will be an economically favorable and clinically relevant alternative to stem-cell therapy and reconstructive surgery.”
Wang says the technique she is developing can revitalize the cells in a matter of hours. And since the cells that are harvested are put back where they were removed, there should be no chance the body will reject them.
Wang received a $440,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue this research in collaboration with Dr. Svjetlana Lozo at North Shore Hospital and Dr. Margot Damaser at Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute.
Wang says this technique could have far-reaching potential for other tissues that rely on fibroblasts to produce collagen. For example, it could be used cosmetically to rejuvenate skin or to help replace cartilage in arthritic knees or hips.
Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R15HD096410. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.