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New stem cell research offers alternative to human and animal cells

Collaboration between the University of Surrey and the University of California @ Irvine (UCI) leads to research breakthrough.

A new study has been published today in the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces by scientists from the University of Surrey and Professor Peter Donovan at the UCI. Their research has found an innovative method for growing human embryonic stem cells, that doesn’t rely on supporting human or animal cells. This discovery paves the way for how tissue is replaced after injury or disease in the future.

The article is entitled ‘Growth and Proliferation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells on Fully Synthetic Scaffolds Based on Carbon Nanotubes’.

Traditionally, human embryonic stem cells are cultivated with the help of proteins from animals, which rules out use in the treatment of humans. Growing stem cells on other human cells risks contamination with pathogens that could of transmit diseases to patients.

The team of scientists have developed a scaffold of carbon nanotubes upon which human stem cells can be grown into a variety of tissues. These new building blocks mimic the surface of the body’s natural support cells and act as scaffolding for stem cells to grow on. Cells that have previously relied on external living cells can now be grown safely in the laboratory, meaning that reinstating tissue after a trauma will become quicker and easier than before.

Dr Alan Dalton, Senior Lecturer from the Department of Physics at the University of Surrey, said, “While carbon nanotubes have been used in the field of biomedicine for some time, their use in human stem cell research has not previously been explored successfully.

“Synthetic stem cell scaffolding has the potential to change the lives of thousands of people, suffering from diseases such as Parkinson’s, diabetes and heart disease, as well as vision and hearing loss. It could lead to cheaper transplant treatments and could potentially one day allow us to produce whole human organs without the need for donors.”

Professor Roberto La Ragione, Head of the Department of Pathology and Infectious Diseases in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey, said, “The interdisciplinary nature of the research has resulted in close collaborations between the Department of Physics and the School of Veterinary Medicine, with synthetic stem cell scaffolding having a number of potential applications in both human and veterinary medicine."

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