Back from his Fulbright travels to Latvia, Daniel Youngstrom’s cells have been enriched.

ICTAS Doctoral Scholar Daniel Youngstrom, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical and veterinary sciences at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, attests that although the culture is very different in Latvia, “once you step foot in the lab, things are surprisingly the same.”  It was through this common language of science – paired with the fact that he has familial roots in Latvia and is familiar with the native tongue – that Youngstrom’s research on human stem cells was able to flourish at the Cell Transplantation Center in Riga.

001_horse_skeleSpeaking of flourish, that is exactly what the stem cells that Youngstrom studied happened to do. One focus of regenerative medicine is to transplant adult stem cells into the site of a degenerative injury to improve tissue healing.  Although he studies horse stem cells at the Virginia Tech Equine Medical Center, the human cells he characterized in Latvia can be manipulated in similar ways.  By taking tissue samples from human total hip replacement surgeries, he was able to study adult stem cell behavior and potentially improve cell therapies currently used to regenerate diseased cartilage in osteoarthritis. One facet of this research is the interaction between cells and their surrounding proteins.  “Cells produce a complex extracellular matrix, and use it to send and receive information about its environment,” said Youngstrom.  “This information is critical in maintaining proper cell behavior.” Using cell culture techniques incorporating a biomimetic three-dimensional environment, researchers can improve in vitro cell growth and preserve therapeutic properties versus traditional techniques.

The major theme of Youngstrom’s work is how stem cells sense their environment, and how to use this information to improve emerging regenerative therapies.  Obtaining a sufficient quantity of stem cells for cell therapy is difficult because of the relative rarity of stem cells in adults.  Cells are often grown in a laboratory to generate sufficient numbers, but traditional cell culture plates may alter cell phenotype and behavior. In order to reproduce a native-like 3D environment, Youngstrom used a special hydrogel system.  This work will help researchers deliver the next generation of therapies.

Youngstrom has integrated his experience in Latvia back to his research in Leesburg.  He notes that there are similarities in the Leesburg and Riga laboratories because they are both academic labs that offer clinical services.

Upon graduation, he hopes to continue his academic research career in musculoskeletal biology and regenerative medicine.


Did you know?

Forests account for 56% of the total land area in Latvia

Latvia has over 12,500 rivers, and is only half the size of Virginia!

An International Environmental Performance Index ranked Latvia 1st out of 132 countries