WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- The value of stem cells to medical science lies in their pluripotency, their ability to transform into any type of cell. During medical experiments, doctors and researchers have found it difficult to ensure stem cells maintain this ability until the time is right.
Enter hydrogels. New research suggests growing stem cells on hydrogels effectively mimics a natural process called diapause, whereby the cells maintain their pluripotency for a longer amount of time. The hydrogel puts the stem cells to sleep.
Scientists normally coax stem cells into differentiating into specific cell types by augmenting the material and temperature in which the cells are grown. Hydrogel-induced hibernation delays the differentiation up to two weeks.
Diapause is a tool used by embryos to delay differentiation until growing conditions inside the human body are just right. Under close examination, researchers noticed this process involved the coating of stem cells with a mucus. The hydrogel mimics this mucus.
In experiments, researchers found that stem cells removed from the hydrogels began proliferating and differentiating again within one day.
The new technology, described in the journal ACS Central Science, could be used to improve the shipment of stem cells from laboratory to laboratory and bolster stem cell treatments.