Major breakthrough in stem cell manufacturing technology

Published: 1-Apr-2014

Scientists create stem cell environment that allows both self-renewal of cells and their evolution into heart cells

Scientists at the University of Nottingham have developed a new substance which could simplify the manufacture of cell therapy. Cell therapy is a rapidly developing area of medicine in which stem cells have the potential to repair human tissue and maintain organ function in chronic disease and age-related illnesses. But a major problem with translating current research into actual products and treatments is how to mass-produce such a complex living material.

There are two distinct phases in the production of stem cell products; proliferation (making enough cells to form large tissue) and differentiation (turning the basic stem cells into functional cells). The material environment required for these two phases are different and up to now a single substance that does both jobs has not been available.

The material is a hydrogel containing two polymers

A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at Nottingham has now created a new stem cell micro-environment which they have found has allowed both the self-renewal of cells and their evolution into cardiomyocyte (heart) cells. The material is a hydrogel containing two polymers — an alginate-rich environment which allows proliferation of cells with a simple chemical switch to render the environment collagen-rich when the cell population is large enough. This change triggers the next stage of cell growth when cells develop a specific purpose.

Nottingham University's Professor of Advanced Drug Delivery and Tissue Engineering, Kevin Shakesheff, said: 'Our new combination of hydrogels is a first. It allows dense tissue structures to be produced from human pluripotent stem cells (HPSC) in a single-step process never achieved before. The discovery has important implications for the future of manufacturing in regenerative medicine.'

The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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