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Scientists devise method to scale up stem cell production

A human protein allowed researchers to grow stem cells without the intricate, expensive cultures generally needed to do so.

By Stephen Feller
Scientists devise method to scale up stem cell production
Billions of stem cells are needed if researchers are to use them for disease treatment, but standard methods are costly and time consuming -- a problem researchers in England think they have solved. Photo by Juan Gaertner/Shutterstock

NOTTINGHAM, England, July 13 (UPI) -- Researchers have found a human protein that can help grow large numbers of stem cells, which may reduce the time and cost required to produce the billions of cells needed for use in disease treatment.

The protein inter-alpha inhibitor, derived from human blood, eliminated the need for highly prepared cultures generally used to produce pluripotent stem cells, according to a study conducted Uppsala University and the University of Nottingham.

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Stem cells are usually grown using biological substrates, but researchers say the process is expensive and takes a lot of time.

Inter-alpha inhibitor protein is found at high volumes in blood and is a byproduct of drug purification. Based on the new study, stem cells could be grown much more easily using hydrogel technology.

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The expectation, they say, is such easy growth of stem cells could offer greater control of their creation for disease research.

"Our aim is to replicate the 3-dimensional environment that cells experience in the body so that our lab-bench biology is more accurate in modelling diseases," co-author Dr. Cathy Merry, an associate professor of translational stem cell biology at the University of Nottingham, said in a press release.

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For the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers created a serum that allowed both embryonic and induced human pluripotent stem cell lines to grow in untreated lab dishes.

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"The protein can make stem cells attach on unmodified tissue culture plastic, and improve survival of the stem cells in harsh conditions," first author Dr. Sara Pijuan-Galitó said. "It is the first stem cell culture method that does not require a pre-treated biological substrate for attachment, and therefore, is more cost and time-efficient and paves the way for easier and cheaper large-scale production."

The researchers say the method will allow the production of large numbers of the cells, with plans to use it immediately in research on diseases such as multiple osteochontroma, an inherited disease causing painful lumps to develop on patients' bones.

"As coating is a time-consuming step and adds cost to human stem cell culture, this new method has the potential to save time and money in large-scale and high-throughput cultures, and be highly valuable for both basic research and commercial applications," said Dr. Cecilia Annerén, a researcher at Uppsala University and GE Healthcare.

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