Ending the Reliance on Feeder Cells for Stem Cell Growth

A new study, published today in the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces reports the discovery of a new method for growing human embryonic stem cells that does not depend on feeder cells from human or animal cells.

Traditionally, embryonic stem cells are cultivated with the help of feeder cells derived from animals. Feeder cells secrete a host of growth factors and other signaling molecules that prevent the embryonic stem cells from differentiating and maintain their pluripotency. However, the use of animal products in the production of human cells lines rules out their use in the treatment of humans, since they can become contaminated with animal proteins that will cause rejection by the immune system or animal viruses that can infect the patient and cause significant disease.

The team of scientists led by the University of Surrey and in collaboration with Professor Peter Donovan at the University of California have developed a scaffold of carbon nanotubes upon which human stem cells can be grown into a variety of tissues. These nanotube networks mimic the surface of the body’s natural support cells and act as scaffolding for stem cells to grow on. Even cultured cells that have previously relied on feeder cells can now be grown safely in the laboratory, which paves the way for revolutionary steps in replacing tissue after injury or disease.

Dr Alan Dalton, senior lecturer from the Department of Physics at the University of Surrey said: “While carbon nanotubes have been used in the field of biomedicine for some time, their use in human stem cell research has not previously been explored successfully.”

“Synthetic stem cell scaffolding has the potential to change the lives of thousands of people, suffering from diseases such as Parkinson’s, diabetes and heart disease, as well as vision and hearing loss. It could lead to cheaper transplant treatments and could potentially one day allow us to produce whole human organs without the need for donors.”

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Professor of Biochemistry at Spring Arbor University (SAU) in Spring Arbor, MI. Have been at SAU since 1999. Author of The Stem Cell Epistles. Before that I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA (1997-1999), and Sussex University, Falmer, UK (1994-1997). I studied Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Irvine (PhD 1994), and Microbiology at UC Davis (MA 1986, BS 1984).