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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Synthetic growth medium for stem cells

I’ve written before about some exciting work being done with human stem cells. In order to use the cells, scientists have to be able to reliably grow them under consistent conditions. To that end, Joerg Lahann, Gary Smith and their colleagues at the University of Michigan have developed a synthetic Petri dish coating.

In the past, human stem cells have been grown on a support matrix of mouse cells or mouse cell products such as Matrigel (a protein mixture made from mouse tumors). While these products adequately nourish the stem cells, they also secrete factors of their own which can have unpredictable consequences. For this reason, human stem cell lines grown using mouse products have strict therapeutic limitations.

After testing six different polymer coatings, the researchers hit upon a fully synthetic coating that was both stable and identical from batch to batch. They gave their new coating the acronym PMEDSAH. This stands for poly[2-(methacryloyloxy)ethyldimethyl(3-sulfopropyl)ammonium hydroxide], in case you were wondering. But don’t try to make it yourself, because they’ve got a patent pending.

PMEDSAH allows human stem cells to grow and, more importantly, to differentiate normally. After all, it’s the pluripotency of stem cells (their ability to become any type of cell) that makes them so useful.