Breakthrough Increases the Potential to Produce Large Quantities of Human Embryonic Stem Cells

13Apr10

Researchers at Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center have developed a novel strategy to derive and culture human embryonic stem cells in suspension. This breakthrough may be the key to developing systems to manufacture the enormous quantities of stem cells required to treat millions of patients.

The research results, published in the recent edition of the prestigious scientific journal Nature Biotechnology, demonstrated that human embryonic stem cell lines can be developed and grown while floating within a cultivation medium. This obviates the need to seed the embryonic stem cells over a substrate – the current methodology – which is very labor intensive and can produce limited quantities of stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells can mature into any type of cell in the body, posing the possibility of an endless source of cells that could be implanted in patients to improve or correct conditions caused by damage to specific cells or the lack of them. These degenerative disorders include Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, Age-Related Macular Degeneration and others. To date however, a key limitation in exploiting the potential of human embryonic stem cells for future transplantation therapy is scientists’ inability to produce large quantities of the stem cells.

Human embryonic stem cells are most commonly cultured as colonies comprised of a single layer of cells attached to a flat surface coated with matrix or feeder cells. The current notion is that detachment of the colonies into floating clusters of stem cells, induces uncontrolled maturation of the stem cells into a variety of cell types. The Hadassah researchers developed unique conditions that allow the derivation of embryonic stem cells and enable their self-renewal and multiplication in suspension without differentiation into specific types of cells. Moreover, they showed that by further changing the culture conditions, they were able to direct the stem cells in the suspension to mature into progenitors of the nervous system.

This breakthrough creates the possibility of expanding bulk quantities of floating embryonic stem cells in fluid substrate within large containers, in computerized automated systems with accurate control of the growth conditions. In addition, by changing the culture conditions it will be possible to further direct the stem cells to mature into large quantities of specific types of cells for implantation in patients or for research.

“This research is an important step towards the development of an automated controlled process that produces the large quantities of cells needed for transplantaton in millions of patients and for other uses in industry and research”, says Prof. Benjamin Reubinoff, Director of the Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cells Research Center, who led the research. The work was conducted as part of a post doctorate study by Dr. Debora Steiner with the participation of many other researchers at Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cells Research Center.

Ron Krumer
Director, External Relations
Hadassah Medical Organization
Jerusalem

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