Scientists have found a new method of creating human stem cells which could solve the big problem of the large-scale production needed to fully realise the potential of these remarkable cells for understanding and treating disease.
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The discovery has been made by a team of scientists at the University of Nottingham in Britain, Uppsala University and GE Healthcare in Sweden.
"By using a protein derived from human blood called Inter-alpha inhibitor, we have grown human pluripotent stem cells in a minimal medium without the need for costly and time-consuming biological substrates,” said first author Sara Pijuan-Galito from Uppsala University.
Inter-alpha inhibitor is found in human blood at high concentrations, and is currently a by-product of standard drug purification schemes.
"The protein can make stem cells attach on unmodified tissue culture plastic, and improve survival of the stem cells in harsh conditions,” Pijuan-Galito said.
"It is the first stem cell culture method that does not require a pre-treated biological substrate for attachment, and therefore, is more cost and time-efficient and paves the way for easier and cheaper large-scale production," Pijuan-Galito explained.
Human pluripotent stem cells are undifferentiated cells which have the unique potential to develop into all the different types of cells in the body.
With applications in disease modeling, drug screening, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, there is already an enormous demand for these cells, which will only grow as their use in the clinic and by the pharmaceutical industry increases.
However, production of stem cells at the scale required for optimal application in modern healthcare is currently not feasible because available culture methods are either too expensive, or reliant on substances that would not be safe for clinical use in humans.
The new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, could lead to quicker and cheaper large scale industrial production.
The work was started at Uppsala University in Sweden, and the first author, Dr Sara Pijuan-Galitó, is now continuing her work as a Swedish Research Council Research Fellow at Nottingham. Sara said:
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"This new method has the potential to save time and money in large-scale and high-throughput cultures, and be highly valuable for both basic research and commercial applications," Cecilia Anneren, who has a joint position at Uppsala University and at GE Healthcare in Uppsala, said.