New material forges the way for 'stem cell factories'

22 Jul 2015 13:51:51.663
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If you experience a major heart attack the damage could cost you around five billion heart cells. Future stem cell treatments will require this number and more to ensure those cells are replaced and improve your chances of survival.

Experts at The University of Nottingham have discovered the first fully synthetic substrate with potential to grow billions of stem cells. The research, published in the academic journal Advanced Materials, could forge the way for the creation of 'stem cell factories' - the mass production of human embryonic (pluripotent) stem cells.

The £2.3m research project, ‘Discovery of a Novel Polymer for Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Expansion and Multilineage Differentiation’, was led by Morgan Alexander, Professor of Biomedical Surfaces in the School of Pharmacy and Chris Denning, Professor of Stem Cell Biology in the School of Medicine and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The material could provide an off-the-shelf product for clinical use in the treatment of the heart, liver and brain. 

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Professor Alexander, Director of the Interface and Surface Analysis Centre, and his team have been searching for polymers on which human pluripotent stem cells can be grown and differentiated in vast numbers – billions at a time.

Professor Alexander said: “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.”

Billions of stem cells are needed as trials move into second phase

Using a high throughput materials discovery approach the research team has found this man-made material, free from possible contamination and batch variability. 

Professor Denning, whose field is in cardiac stem cell research, said: “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 commercialised and validated by the regulators it could be helping patients in two to three years.”

Conditions of the heart, liver and brain are all under investigation as possible new stem cell treatments. People are already receiving stem cells derived eye cells for eye disorders. 

These new materials have shown great promise in the laboratory. The research team now needs a commercial partner to test this lab based discovery on an industrial scale.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with campuses in China and Malaysia modelled on a headquarters that is among the most attractive in Britain’ (Times Good University Guide 2014). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and the winner of ‘Research Project of the Year’ at the THE Awards 2014. It is ranked in the world’s top one per cent of universities by the QS World University Rankings, and 8th in the UK by research power according to REF 2014.

The University of Nottingham in Malaysia (UNMC) is holding events throughout 2015 to celebrate 15 years as a pioneer of transnational education. Based in Semenyih, UNMC was established as the UK's first overseas campus in Malaysia and one of the first world-wide.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Morgan Alexander in the School of Pharmacy on +44 (0)115 951 5119, or Professor Chris Denning in the School of Medicine on +44 (0)115 823 1236, at The University of Nottingham
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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