Method could be used to enhance stem cell therapies

A method for growing adult stem cells for therapeutic use has been developed by researchers at the universities of Glasgow and Southampton.

The work, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), could help speed up developments in stem cell therapies for conditions such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

At the moment, the process involves culturing stem cells in a laboratory to increase the initial yield of cells and create enough volume to support cellular regeneration.

The method is made more difficult by spontaneous stem cell differentiation, where stem cells grown on standard plastic tissue culture surfaces do not expand to create new stem cells and create other cells that are of no use.

But engineers and biologists at Glasgow and Southampton believe they have developed a nanopatterned surface that could solve this problem.

Created by an injection-moulding process similar to that which is used to manufacture Blu-ray discs, the material is covered with 120nm pits that allow stem cells to grow and spread while retaining their stem cell characteristics.

Prof Douglas Kell, chief executive of the BBSRC, said: ‘Understanding how stem cells are affected by their environment is key to appreciating how they might be grown in sufficient quantities to be used in research or as therapies. This research shows that the physical surface that the cells are grown on can actually affect their fundamental biology in ways that are useful for us.

‘Multidisciplinary research is increasingly important and this project is a great example where cell biology, medicine and engineering come together in powerful synergy to solve a complex problem.’

Dr Matthew Dalby from Glasgow University added that if the same process can be used to culture other types of stem cells, the technology could be the first step to developing large-scale stem cell culture factories that would allow for the creation of a wide range of therapies.

The research, named ’Nanoscale surfaces for the long-term maintenance of mesenchymalstem cell phenotype and multipotency’, was published in the journal Nature Materials.