A totally synthetic substrate material that has the potential to grow billions of stem cells has been discovered by researchers at the University of Nottingham. The findings could pave the way for an era of stem cell “factories” enabling the mass production of human embryonic (pluripotent) stem cells.

Such stem cells could provide an off-the-shelf product for clinical use in the treatment of the heart, liver, and brain. For example, damage caused by a major heart attack could deprive you of around five billion heart cells. Stem cell treatments of the future would require this number, and more, to make certain those cells are replaced and improve your chances of survival.

To address this requirement for cells, scientists have been looking for polymer substrates on which human pluripotent stem cells can be concurrently grown in numbers in the billions.

Morgan Alexander, professor of biomedical surfaces at University of Nottingham, says:

“The possibilities for regenerative medicine are still being researched in the form of clinical trials. 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.”

A high throughput materials discovery approach was used by the researchers to pioneer the human-made material, free from possible contamination and batch variability.

Chris Denning, professor of stem cell biology, says:

“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.

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.”

As potential new stem cell treatments, conditions of the heart, liver, and brain are all under investigation. Individuals are already receiving stem cells derived from eye cells for eye disorder treatments.

Adam D. Celiz, James G. W. Smith, Asha K. Patel, Andrew L. Hook, Divya Rajamohan, Vinoj T. George, Luke Flatt, Minal J. Patel, Vidana C. Epa, Taranjit Singh, Robert Langer, Daniel G. Anderson, Nicholas D. Allen, David C. Hay, David A. Winkler, David A. Barrett, Martyn C. Davies, Lorraine E. Young, Chris Denning, and Morgan R. Alexander Discovery of a Novel Polymer for Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Expansion and Multilineage Differentiation Advanced Materials Volume 27, Issue 27, pages 4006–4012, July 15, 2015 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201501351

For future updates, subscribe via Newsletter here or Twitter