Stem cell research needs breakthroughs

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Stem cell-based therapeutics are a fast-growing area of early-stage biotech research, targeting diseases from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy to cancer and HIV, supporting regenerative medicine, and even potentially making the deaf hear again. Stem cells can also be used in drug screening, as they can give early signs of the effects of drugs on the whole body.

However, all of this requires a stable, reliable and plentiful supply of stem cells, and current methods can be expensive and prone to contamination.

A team of researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. has created a gel-based scaffold that acts as a framework. The cells cling to it and multiply, and then drop off as the gel cools, almost like ripe fruit.

Dr. Paul de Sousa, of the University of Edinburgh's Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, said: "This development could greatly enhance automated production of embryonic stem cells, which would improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of stem cell manufacturing. We are also looking into whether this work could help develop pluripotent stem cells induced from adult cells."

Breakthroughs like this are going to be vital to the move toward stem cell therapies, enabling preclinical and clinical stages of R&D, and allowing the large-scale production of therapies once they are approved. -- Suzanne Elvidge (email | Twitter)