Nanopits boost stem cell therapy

U. SOUTHAMPTON (UK) — A process similar to the one used to manufacture blu-ray discs offers a new way to culture adult stem cells. The discovery could lead to new therapies for conditions such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

When adult stem cells are harvested from a patient, they are cultured in the laboratory to increase the initial yield of cells and create a batch of sufficient volume to kick-start the process of cellular regeneration when they are reintroduced back into the patient.


The process of culturing is difficult because of spontaneous stem cell differentiation, where stem cells grown on standard plastic tissue culture surfaces don’t expand to create new stem cells but instead create other cells which are of no use in therapy.

Currently, stem cell expansion is boosted by immersing the cells in chemical solutions which help to increase the overall yield of stem cells but are limited in their effectiveness.

The new research, reported in the journal Nature Materials, shows how a plastic with a nanopatterned surface offers a method of stem cell expansion that is much easier to manufacture and use than anything currently available.

Created by an injection-molding process similar to that which is used to manufacture blu-ray discs, the new nanoplastic has a surface that is covered with 120-nanometer pits, which allow stem cells to grow and spread while retaining their stem cell characteristics.

“Until now, it’s been very difficult to grow stem cells in sufficient numbers and maintain them as stem cells for use in therapy,” says Matthew Dalby of the University of Glasgow, who led the research with Nikolaj Gadegaard and Richard Oreffo at the University of Southampton.

“What we have shown is that this new nanostructured surface can be used to very effectively culture mesencyhmal stem cells, taken from sources such as bone marrow, which can then be put to use in musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, and connective tissues.”

“If the same process can be used to culture other types of stem cells too, and this research in under way in our labs, our technology could be the first step on the road to developing large-scale stem cell culture factories which would allow for the creation of a wide range of therapies for many common diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

“Development of platform technologies that allow the scale up of skeletal or mesenchymal stem cells offers a whole new approach to skeletal regenerative medicine,” says Oreffo.

“If this new technology enables us to create sufficient stem cells, and to pattern hip implants, for example, it could herald the development of new medical devices with therapeutic application and approaches to understanding stem cell fate and regulation.

“It is important to realize the ability to retain skeletal stem cell phenotype using surface topography offers a step change in current approaches for stem cell biology. The implications for research and future interventions for patients with arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases are substantial.”

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