Stem cells are a way to test new drugs and therapies that would otherwise require the use of animals or difficult to obtain patient samples. While they have great potential for medicine, stem cells are hard to manage, particularly growing and differentiating them into other cells, and then storing them for later use.
Now a team of German researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging have developed a cheap and simple to use device that helps to automate some of the steps involved in using stem cells.
A common way to grow stem cells is within suspended liquid droplets that provide a gentle, 3D environment for cells to reproduce and aggregate. The so called LabBag is a sterile semi-rigid box into which the liquid medium and starter cells are deposited, then the whole device is rotated by hand to suspend the solution within dozens of individual droplets.
The separation of the liquid into individual droplets that hang from the ceiling of the box is possible thanks to a hydrophobic coating covering most of the surface of the ceiling while the spots where the droplets are to sit have a highly hydrophilic coating.
Once the cells are grown and prepared, the LabBag can be simply placed into a freezer to store the samples. There’s no pipetting or transferring that’s required, substantially speeding up the process.