Seaweed could be the key to stem cell storage

Researchers from Newcastle University (UK) have suggested that seaweed could provide a low-cost solution to the problem of stem cell storage.

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Feb 05, 2016

Evidence has shown that adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells could improve wound healing by reducing inflammation and encouraging wound closure. However, stem cells must be kept at 37°C in atmospheric oxygen and 5% carbon dioxide to remain viable. These strict storage requirements have limited their widespread use.

The researchers prolonged the cells’ lives for up to 3 days at ambient temperatures by encasing them in alginate extracted from seaweed. They reported that up to 90% of the stem cells were intact after 3 days’ storage at 4–21°C.

Che Connon (Newcastle University) explained further: "The stem cells are surrounded by an alginate gel which protects them from the environment – a bit like frogspawn. We found them unchanged even after three days at room temperature. This has lots of advantages and applications. For example, we have used them to make a bandage which contains human stem cells which could be applied to a wound such as an ulcer or burn to speed up the healing process."

The team believe that, in addition to protecting the stem cells from the environment, the alginate prevents lysis by restricting cell expansion. Using this method, the researchers have developed both stem cell beads and a gel that could be moulded into a pad or film.

Stephen Swioklo (Newcastle University) summarized the method: "The stem cells are grown from the standard frozen form and then mixed into the alginate solution. This is extracted from a type of brown algae, a seaweed commonly used in food and medical applications. This can either be dropped into a vial of calcium chloride which forms cross-links making the alginate set, forming tiny beads. Or the gel can be placed into a mould to form a film which sets in a couple of minutes. We have used this to make plasters and bandages. One circular disc just an inch diameter was demonstrated in our study to effectively preserve a million stem cells and could easily contain up to 10 million."

– Written by Daphne Boulicault


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