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Process Devised for Continuous Stem Cell Production

Disc used to produce cells

Disc used to continuously produce cells (Newcastle University)

17 November 2017. Researchers in the U.K. developed a process for closed-loop continuous production and collection of large quantities of stem cells for therapies. A team from Newcastle University describes its process in today’s issue of the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (paid subscription required).

The cell production process is a creation of Newcastle’s Institute of Genetic Medicine where a research focus is tissue engineering for regenerative medicine. A team led by tissue engineering professor Che Connon is seeking more efficient and reliable production processes for human cells, particularly where large numbers of individual cells are needed for treatments. The researchers’ goal is a manufacturing process for individual cells like those used today for producing synthetic proteins and biologic drugs, such as vaccines.

Most cell generation processes today use batch production methods in flasks or other lab dishes. Collections of cells produced through these techniques then need to be broken down with enzymes or chemicals to free-up individual cells. The actual quantity of individual cells is limited by the total surface area of the lab dishes used to produce those cells. The researchers say these limits create a bottleneck in the production of therapeutic cells.

Connon and colleagues instead designed a process that produces individual cells for collection, with materials that keep producing the desired cells from a single generation surface. Their process uses a coating of peptides, short chains of amino acids with amphiphilic properties, like fats suspended in water. These peptide amphiphiles then enable the cells to peel away from the surface, and allow for more cells to grow in their place.

The Newcastle team tested their process with corneal stroma or connective tissue stem cells in the eye. The authors report their process grew individual cells at a steady rate, which self-detached from the culture at a rate of about 1 percent of the total number of cells per hour, with the detached cells then collected. In addition, cells generated through this process retained their original traits and properties. The system maintained this production rate for a month. The authors say the process can also be used to produce similar mesenchymal stem cells that transform into bone, cartilage, and other connective tissues.

“Remarkably,” says Connon in a university statement, “with this continuous production technique even a culture surface the size of a penny can, over a period of time, generate the same number of cells as a much larger-sized flask.” Connon adds, “This concept also represents an important innovation for cell-based therapies, where treatments can require up to a billion cells per patient.  With our new technology, one square meter would produce enough cells to treat 4,000 patients ….”

Connon is also scientific founder and chief scientist at Atelerix Ltd., a spin-off company from Newcastle University. Atelerix is commercializing a process for storing and transporting cells at room temperature, instead of freezing, using natural hydrogels, water-based polymers.

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