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Another way to preserve stem cells

26/02/2016

The developments behind stem cells and the general field of regenerative medicine are progressing so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up with everything new that is going on. With so many ways to locate, extract and make use of these incredibly viable little cells, it is therefore important to make sure they can be preserved for the moment they are needed.

In a similar way to how it is possible to generate large amounts of energy from, say, a solar-powered plant, the storage becomes the key issue, as if there is nowhere to store this valuable supply, it is wasted and the whole process ends up being not as useful as it can be. Thankfully, scientists are moving ahead with this side of the field as well, as they find more ways to keep stem cells safe.

One of the latest techniques is to use a substance called a hydrogel, which is claimed to be able to put a stem cell to sleep for up to two weeks.

What is the relevance of this, you may ask? Stem cells are pluripotent – that is, they can differentiate into any cell in the body, which is why they have so many uses and the reason they are so highly valued.

The problem comes with trying to prevent these stem cells from differentiating into something before the time comes to utilise them. If you have some stem cells prepared for a specific operation, but delays in proceedings mean that these pluripotent cells have already developed to fit a certain cell type, the whole thing can be set back entirely.

It is now possible to treat these stem cells with a method called a diapause, which is a natural occurrence in cell growth as the development is suspended. Certain animals, such as kangaroos, will have this happen to them as part of the natural life cycle, as well as being dependent on environmental conditions. In nature, it would allow the mother to delay the birth until the child has a more favourable chance of survival.

Hydrogels follow this pattern in nature, as scientists have noticed that when an embryo undergoes a diapause period it will end up covered in mucus, which acts as a soft protective layer. The gels are synthesised to mimic this natural mucus and cover the stem cells in a way that will make them go dormant, or go to sleep. It is hoped that further development will show that by creating the right environment, the gestation period can be effectively chosen, which will allow stem cells to be available when needed most.

Several companies working in this field, such as market leaders BioEden, specialise in preserving extracted stem cells so that they can remain in a safe and unspoilt position until they are required for use whenever the time arises. If you would like to know more about stem cell preservation or the general process, feel free to get in touch for more advice.