With the aging of the population, degenerative and ischemic disorders are becoming an increasing economic and social burden. The characterization over the last decade of tissue specific stem cells other than hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) including neural stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells and others, as well as pluripotent stem cells such as embryonic stem cells (ESCs) or multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs) offers the possibility that stem cells may be used to treat disorders caused by degeneration or ischemia. The major advantage of HSC therapy is that the fate of the cells and their progeny can be readily followed by simple analysis of circulating blood or bone marrow biopsies. By contrast, the fate of stem cells resident in or grafted in solid organs can not be readily followed. Hence one of the major impediments to determine if stem cells might be exploited to treat disorders of solid organs is the inability to follow the fate (such as migration, survival and lineage differentiation) of stem cells, whether endogenous to the affected organ or grafted in the organ, in vivo using non-invasive means.
Therefore, we have assembled a group of investigators from the K.U.LEUVEN, UNIVERSITEIT ANTWERPEN and UNIVERSITEIT GENT, who are recognized worldwide for their expertise in respectively stem cell research, non-invasive imaging technology and micro-& nanomaterials for biomedical and pharmaceutical purposes .. The consortium will develop methods to manipulate endogenous stem cells as well as cultured multipotent stem cell populations that can be grafted to enable non-invasive imaging of migration and survival of the cells in vivo, and to also enhance migration and survival. In a second platform multimodality imaging will be developed to allow in a non-invasive manner to follow the fate of stem cells in vivo. Some of these imaging modalities, here focused around stem cells, should be readily translatable to the clinic both to follow stem cell fate, but also outside of the area of stem cell research as we believe that some of the technical optimization of CT-scan, PET-scan and MRI based non-invasive imaging should have much broader applications. Moreover, development of genetic and direct labeling methods of stem cells to allow following their fate as well as modify their fate should prove very useful for studies aimed at testing the effect of drugs on stem cell or more differentiated cell behavior in vivo. Thus: although stroke will be used as the model disease, and MSCs, MAPCs and endogenous NSCs are the cells to be modified, this technology will constitute a generic but innovative set of methods that can then be used in other disease models, employing other stem cell populations, and outside the field of stem cell based and derived therapies.