A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has carried the day after discovering a new way to circumnavigate a range of complications that had previously hindered the use of highly versatile human stem cells in the world of medicine.
The new breakthrough was facilitated by the invention of an all-chemical alternative for the risky and confusing materials that are currently used to grow the delicate cells.
How are Human Stem cells used?
Human stem cells are a valuable source of cells used in experimental studies within the world of biology and medicine.They are particularly useful in the study of genes, human development, diseases, therapies, and, most importantly, in the screening of new therapeutic compounds.Depending on where they are extracted from, human stem cells can be classified as embryonic, fetal, pluripotent, or adult.Embryonic stem cells are perhaps the most common because of their ability to reveal key details concerning the earliest stages of human development.
Nevertheless, the most powerful application of these cells involves their utilization in the realms of drug discovery and safety.Since they can develop into pure populations of various kinds of human cells, they are ideal for testing thousands of chemical compounds in efficacy and safety assessments.
The latest innovative development, coupled with the remarkable versatility that stems cells exhibit, is expected to facilitate their growth, reproduction, and use in a wide range of settings within the realm of biomedical engineering.
Stem cell growth and reproduction
The growth of stem cells in a laboratory takes place in a special “substrate” material that anchors them in place and allows normal signaling for development.After obtaining them from the source, researchers transfer the cells into a culture dish where they divide, multiply, and spread over the surface of the dish.
The most common substrate used in cell growth is Matrigel.It is made up of a composite stew derived from mouse tumors.
"Matrigel can be a very powerful material, as it includes more than 1,500 different proteins," says William Murphy, a professor of biomedical engineering and the major brain power behind the latest development, "and these can influence cell behavior in a huge variety of ways.Matrigel has been used as a Swiss army knife for growing cells and assembling tissues, but there are substantial issues with reproducibility because it's such a complex material."
An added drawback of using Matrigel is its potential in carrying pathogens and hazards on account of its biological origin.
The new substrate
With the help of a new innovative automated screening test, Professor William Murphy, and colleagues William Daly and Eric Nguyen, have invented a superior all-chemical substrate, as a replacement for the current demanding substrates.
Prior to the discovery, they had initially planned on creating a plain synthetic material that would support the growth of stem cells without the manifestation of unplanned outcomes and limitations in reproducibility like those detected in Matrigel.
Their invention has already received two U.S.patents and is ready for use in different areas of the medical field.One of the uses of the new substrate involves the growth of stem cells for diverse applications in regenerative medicine.As opposed to conventional substrates that rely on animal tumors, the new medium has completely eliminated the danger and confusion that was noted in past procedures.
The second utilization entails the growth of arteries and veins from stem cells, for use in the evaluation of drug toxicity and discovery.In reality, the widespread toxicity of drugs to maturing blood vessels is a common hindrance to the use of many medications by pregnant mothers or women who may become pregnant in the near future.
Researchers will also get the opportunity to conduct more experiments with blood vessel cells obtained from stem cells in the screening of environmental chemicals for toxicity, which explains why Environmental Protection Agency and National Institutes of Health have, in part, funded Murphy’s research endeavors.
Besides making a new substrate, Murphy also designed a new automated process that would help in holding and supporting stem cells as they grew.Older experiments were only capable of screening ten materials, which was considerably slower compared to the new cutting-edge procedure.
"We developed a process that allowed us to test an array of materials -- each one slightly different in terms of stiffness or ability to attach to stem cells -- on a single slide," he said.Companies are already showing increased interest in the new substrate, and some are even ready to adopt it in place of older substrates. "A number of companies have expressed a strong interest in moving away from Matrigel, and our vascular screening product has already been successfully beta tested at multiple locations," Murphy says.
Although the development of a substrate may appear less witty compared to the identification of stem cells, the new scientific breakthrough is a step further in the road toward efficient growth and wider use.