An MIT research team with help from English and Korean scientists have identified a synthetic material that is effective in promoting the growth of pluripotent stem cells on its surface. Using this new technology, scientists should hopefully be able to overcome the challenge of farming enough stem cells for effective research and future therapeutic needs.
Previous studies had suggested that several chemical and physical properties of surfaces — including roughness, stiffness and affinity for water — might play a role in stem-cell growth. The researchers created about 500 polymers (long chains of repeating molecules) that varied in those traits, grew stem cells on them and analyzed each polymer’s performance. After correlating surface characteristics with performance, they found that there was an optimal range of surface hydrophobicity (water-repelling behavior), but varying roughness and stiffness did not have much effect on cell growth.
They also adjusted the composition of the materials, including proteins embedded in the polymer. They found that the best polymers contained a high percentage of acrylates, a common ingredient in plastics, and were coated with a protein called vitronectin, which encourages cells to attach to surfaces.
Using their best-performing material, the researchers got stem cells (both embryonic and induced pluripotent) to continue growing and dividing for up to three months. They were also able to generate large quantities of cells — in the millions.
Image: The cells at top (blue) are stained to reveal their nuclei, while the cells in the middle and bottom are stained for proteins that are known to be present when cells are pluripotent. Courtesy of Y. Mei, K. Saha, R. Langer, R. Jaenisch, and D. G. Anderson
Press release: A better way to grow stem cells…
Abstract in Nature Materials: Combinatorial development of biomaterials for clonal growth of human pluripotent stem cells