New technique boosts potential for growing stem cells

May 27, 2002

A new method developed by University of Toronto researchers for growing specialized cells from embryonic stem cells could provide large numbers of these valuable cells for research and clinical purposes.

Professor Peter Zandstra of U of T's Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering says the technique could have a significant impact on stem cell research. "Up until now, stem cells could only be cultured in small amounts but our method scales up production to clinically relevant cell numbers," he says. His team's findings are published in the May 20 issue of Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

The new technique, which is the subject of a patent, was developed using a bioreactor that holds roughly one litre of stem cell suspension. This is a much larger amount than suspension tissue culture plates (the traditional method) can hold. Zandstra's technique also solves the problem of stem cells that stick together in culture, interfering with their ability to replicate and specialize into different cell types. He encloses the cells in polysaccharide capsules designed to be outgrown when the cell "stickiness" has disappeared.

Professor Zandstra's team worked with mouse stem cells and achieved a high efficiency of stem cell differentiation. Zandstra anticipates that human stem cells could be grown the same way, once federal legislation establishes guidelines for their use.
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CONTACT: Professor Peter Zandstra, U of T Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, 416-978-8888, peter.zandstra@utoronto.ca or Nicolle Wahl, U of T public affairs, 416-978-6974, nicolle.wahl@utoronto.ca

University of Toronto

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