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Hydrogel keeps stem cells in stasis


Researchers from the University of Sheffield have created a hydrogel that is able to put human stem cells into stasis.

The gel is composed of temperature-responsive polymer “worms”, and may be a more practical and less costly way to store stem cells in medicine. The hydrogel means that cells do not need to be put to sleep prior to being required for treatment. Steven Armes, one of the researchers, said: “The stasis trick is a nice way to preserve them with essentially no maintenance.”

The benefit of this option is that stem cells can reside in the gel for a number of days without their viability necessarily being compromised. Armes said: “You simply cool the gel to de-gel it and then you can either fish them out by hand, or you can centrifuge them very gently.”

Rein Ulijn from the City University of New York said: “Developing biomaterials that are fully synthetic and simple in structure is of interest in its own right as we are in a better position to change properties systematically and learn about physical, chemical and mechanical effects on cell fate.”

One way to avoid stem cells from being exposed to factors such as age or pollutants is to remove them from baby teeth. If stem cells are extracted from naturally shed teeth, this will then mean the procedure is both pain-free and non-invasive for the donor.

Stem cell treatment should also involve a perfect match, as the patient will not be required to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of their life.

This research will allow for future opportunities to further explore this area. Ulijn said: “Materials like these may provide a very suitable blank canvas for systematic study of factors that influence cell behaviour – for example, biochemical signals could be systematically introduced at defined concentrations.”