Researchers develop method for growing billions of stem cells

"Stem cell factories" will make future treatments for several conditions possible for large numbers of people.
By Stephen Feller  |  Updated July 22, 2015 at 2:30 PM
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NOTTINGHAM, England, July 22 (UPI) -- Roughly 5 billion cells die during a heart attack. In order to replace those cells, doctors would need access to billions more stem cells than that.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham created a substrate they said can serve as the basis for "stem cell factories," producing billions of stem cells at a time for future "off-the-shelf" products to treat heart, liver and brain conditions.

"The possibilities for regenerative medicine are still being researched in the form of clinical trials," said Morgan Alexander, a professor of biomedical surfaces at the University of Nottingham, in a press release. "What we are doing here is paving the way for the manufacture of stem cells in large numbers when those therapies are proved to be safe and effective."

When a person has a heart attack, roughly 5 billion cells die in the organ. In order to replace those cells, doctors would need at least 10 or 15 billion stem cells because some of them won't survive or grow into heart cells, said Chris Denning, a professor of stem cell biology at the University of Nottingham. For just the 70,000 annual heart attack patients in the U.K., trillions of stem cells would have to be produced and available to doctors, he said.

In order to grow tens of billions of stem cells at a time, the researchers developed a "cost-effective synthetic" substrate, an organism-specific surface that supports its growth, that can be used with common cultureware and survive long-term storage.

Eye disorder patients in some countries already receive stem cell-derived treatments, and uses for the heart, liver, and brain are either in clinical trial or in the research process.

"The field of regenerative medicine has snowballed in the last five years and over the coming five years a lot more patients will be receiving stem cell treatments," Denning said. "Clinical trials are still in the very early stages. However, with this kind of product, if we can get it commercialized and validated by the regulators, it could be helping patients in two to three years."

The study is published in Advanced Materials.

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