The majority of researchers working with human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) – cells which produce any type of specialized adult cells in the human body – use animal-based materials for culturing the cells. But because these materials are animal-based, they could transmit viruses and other pathogens to the hESCs, making the cells unsuitable for medical use.
Noboru Sato, an assistant professor of biochemistry, developed the new method, which is not only cleaner and easier to use than conventional methods of culturing hESCs but also results in hESCs whose pluripotency – the potential to differentiate into any of the specialized cells of the body such as neurons, cardiac muscles, and insulin-producing cells – is uncompromised.
Currently in labs worldwide, many researchers grow hESCs on Matrigel-coated culture plates, Matrigel being the trade name for a gelatinous extract, taken from mouse tumor cells, that contains extracellular matrices (ECMs), made up of special proteins. The Matrigel coating provides the scaffolding to which the hESCs first attach and then grow in undifferentiated colonies before differentiating into specialized cells.
In the study, Sato’s group extensively screened various types of scaffold materials in combination with Y27632, a chemical compound that blocks the Rho-Rock pathway, and found that the Matrigel coating could be replaced with “poly-D-lysine,” a chemically synthesized ECM. The major advantages of poly-D-lysine over Matrigel are that poly-D-lysine is completely animal-free, easy to handle, and its quality is consistent.
Release date: August 19, 2008
Source: University of California – Riverside