Now, however, a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reports the development of a fully defined culture system that promises a more uniform and, for cells destined for therapy, safer product.
Writing the week of Nov. 14 in the journal Nature Methods, a team led by Laura Kiessling, a UW-Madison professor of chemistry, unveiled an inexpensive system that takes much of the guess work out of culturing the all-purpose cells.
"It's a technology that anyone can use," says Kiessling. "It's very simple."
At present, human embryonic stem cells are cultured mostly for use in research settings. And while culture systems have improved over time, scientists still use surfaces that contain mouse cells or mouse proteins to grow batches of human cells, whether embryonic or induced stem cells. Doing so increases the chances of contamination by animal pathogens such as viruses, a serious concern for cells that might be used in therapy.
The new culture system utilizes a synthetic, chemically made substrate of protein fragments, peptides, which have an affinity for binding with stem cells. Used in combination with a defined growth medium, the system devised by the Wisconsin team can culture cells in their undifferentiated states for up to three months and possibly longer. The system, according to the new report, also works for induced pluripotent stem cells, the adult cells genetically reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells.
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