When your car breaks down or your bike is busted, you have to take it to a repair shop or buy a new one. On the other hand, when you scrape your knee or break a bone, your body has the amazing ability to fix itself. Byron Mui, a graduate student in the Intramural Research Program at the National Institutes of Health, is trying to learn more about how the body fixes broken bones by studying stem cells, which are crucial for healing injuries. What he learns may one day help scientists figure out how to supercharge the body’s ability to repair our bones.
Hi. My name is Byron and I’m a graduate student at the National Institutes of Health.
To get from one place to the next we drive cars, ride bicycles, or sometimes just walk around in brand new kicks. Unfortunately these things can get damaged in accidents or just break down over time from normal wear and tear. When that happens we can go to the store to get them repaired or replace them entirely, but how amazing would it be if these things could fix themselves?
Amazingly the human body can do just that when we scrape our knees or break our bones our bodies naturally heal in a process called regeneration. Before you know it, we’re ready to pick up where we left off.
Cells in our body called stem cells are a major part of regeneration. They’re kind of like shape shifters in the sense that they can turn into many different types of cells, particularly those that are responsible for repairing injuries.
My research focuses on understanding how stem cells repair broken bones. I want to figure out how a stem cell even knows that a bone was broken in the first place, and what influences their decision to shape shift into one cell type versus another.
To help me answer these questions I’m working on a way to take stem cells from living organisms and grow them in the lab, which can be kind of tricky because stem cells are very sensitive to changes in their environment. But we can then test whether changing certain things about them will alter their behavior.
For example if we block their ability to bind to specific protein can they still repair bone fractures? These experiments will give us a better sense of what makes a stem cell tick and hopefully one day we can supercharge the body’s ability to repair bone fractures by targeting the stem cells within us.