EPFL scientists have developed a new method that turns cells into stem cells by "squeezing" them. The method paves the way for large-scale production of stem cells for medical purposes.
Stem cells are now at the cutting edge of modern medicine. They can transform into a cells of different organs, offering new ways to treat a range of injuries and diseases from Parkinson's to diabetes. But producing the right type of stem cells in a standardized manner is still a serious challenge. EPFL scientists have now developed a gel that boosts the ability of normal cells to revert into stem cells by simply "squeezing" them into shape. Published in Nature Materials, the new technique can also be easily scaled up to produce stem cells for various applications on an industrial scale.
There are different types of stem cells, but the ones that are of particular medical interest are the so-called "induced pluripotent stem cells" or iPSCs. These are derived from mature, adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to behave like stem cells (which is why they are "induced"). iPSCs can then be regrown into a whole range of different cells types, e.g. liver, pancreatic, lung, skin etc.
There have been many attempts to design a standardized method for generating such stem cells. But even the most successful methods turn out to not be very effective, especially for use on a large scale. A major issue is that existing techniques use the two-dimensional environment of a petri dish or cell culture flask, whereas cells in the body exist in a three-dimensional world.
The lab of Matthias Lutolf at EPFL has now developed a new method that may help to overcome these challenges. The approach uses a three-dimensional cell culture system. Normal cells are placed inside a gel that contains normal growth nutrients. "We try to simulate the three-dimensional environment of a living tissue and see how it would influence stem cell behavior," explains Lutolf. "But soon we were surprised to see that cell reprogramming is also influenced by the surrounding microenvironment." The microenvironment in this case, is the gel.
The researchers discovered that they could reprogram the cells faster and more efficiently than current methods by simply adjusting the composition - and hence the stiffness and density - of the surrounding gel. As a result, the gel exerts different forces on the cells, essentially "squeezing" them.
As a new phenomenon, this is not entirely understood. However, the scientists propose that the three-dimensional environment is key to this process, generating mechanical signals that work together with genetic factors to make the cell easier to transform into a stem cell.
"Each cell type may have a 'sweet spot' of physical and chemical factors that offer the most efficient transformation," says Lutolf. "Once you find it, it is a matter of resources and time to create stem cells on a larger scale."
The greater impact of this discovery is possibly quantity. The technique can be applied to a large number of cells to produce stem cells on an industrial scale. Lutolf's lab is looking into this, but their main focus is to better understand the phenomenon, and to find the 'sweet spots' for other cell types.
This work included a collaboration between EPFL's Institute of Bioengineering, Core Facility PTECH, and Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering. It was funded by the EU (Framework 7; PluriMes), SystemsX.ch (StoNets), the European Research Council, and the Swiss National Science Foundation (Singergia).
Caiazzo M, Okawa Y, Ranga A, Piersigilli A, Tabata Y, Lutolf MP. Defined three-dimensional microenvironments boost the induction of stem cell pluripotency. Nature Materials 11 January 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nmat4536
Nik Papageorgiou | EurekAlert!
Multi-institutional collaboration uncovers how molecular machines assemble
02.12.2016 | Salk Institute
Fertilized egg cells trigger and monitor loss of sperm’s epigenetic memory
02.12.2016 | IMBA - Institut für Molekulare Biotechnologie der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften GmbH
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy