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June 14, 2010 - Image 3

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2010-06-14

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Monday, June 14, 2010
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com


'U' research grows
cells on new matrix


University researchers
develop synthetic cell
matrix for stem cell
Daily StaffReporter
Two University researchers may
have developed a new way to success-
fully cultivate stem cells by changing
their direct environment rather than
their biological properties.
Gary Smith, an associate profes-
sor in the department of obstetrics
and gynecology, and Joerg Lahann,
an associate professor in the chemi-
cal engineering department, recently
led a team of researchers to develop a
synthetic cell matrix to facilitate cell
cultures and avoid contamination that
could affect the function of growing
stem cells.
First isolated in 1998, human
embryonic stem cells have only been
under the microscope for about 12
years. Smith said some aspects of hES
cell growth, which make it better
suited to research applications rela-
tive to mouse embryonic stem cells
and human adult stem cells, remain a
"The actual requirements of the
(hES) cell are not fully understood,"
he said.
Smith added that he and Lahann
grow the hES cells on synthetic poly-
mer surfaces instead of the traditional
gels made from ground-up animal cells
or animal-derived fibroblasts, which
are connective tissue cells that secrete
extracellular matrices.
Smith referred to the animal-
derived surfaces as "undefined" insol-
uble components, because the cell
secretions and cell-to-cell interactions
that occur among animal cells cause
variability in the components of the
"What (anundefined insoluble com-
ponent) does is it causes ... problems
with not knowing exactly what is in
the culture environment," he said.
For instance, using mice skin cells
to form the insoluble component can
cause hES cells to take up the proteins
from the mice cells, Smith said. This
uptake of foreign biological matter, he
added, makes it difficult to determine
if apparent characteristics of hES cells
are actually due to the mice cell pro-
To avoid this type of uncertainty in

the observed needs and behaviors of
hES cells, Smith and Lahann are turn-
ingto artificial, or "defined," surfaces.
"(Using a defined insoluble com-
ponent) makes it much easier to test
and define what are the requirements
of hES cells and what actually regu-
lates differentiation," Smith said. "The
long-term benefit is (that) removing
undefined contaminates from hES cell
growth is going to facilitate the ability
to use hES cells in the future for clini-
cal research."
To test a defined insoluble com-
ponent, Smith said he and his team
allowed the cells to grow for seven
days and then "passage" the cells to a
new dish, where they grow for another
seven days before repeating the pro-
cess until the cultured cells cease to
Smith said he and Lahann started
with eight different test surfaces -
three of which successfully anchored
the cells. Cells from two of the three
remaining cultures differentiated of
their own accord, rendering the cul-
tures useless for the purposes of hES
cell research. The one test surface that
the cells successfully attached to and
grew on undifferentiated, Smith said,
has supported cell growth for up to 40
Smith said the next step in their
research, in addition to extending the
growing period of the cells, is to derive
their own line of hES cells. The current
cells they use, he said, are all federally
approved lines grown on fibroblasts -
an undefined insoluble component.
Proposal 2, which was passed in
November 2008 by Michigan voters,
currently allows researchers to derive
their own lines of hES cells under cer-
tain restrictions. Notably, the propos-
al mandates that the cells are created
for the purpose of fertility treatment,
that they are donated by the person
seeking treatment and that they are
either in excess or unsuitable for clini-
cal use.
"Once we have the hES cell line that
we have derived under fully-defined
conditions, then we have something
that has not ever been done before and
then we can start testing if the cells
that are derived and grown on an (ani-
mal-derived surface) are any different
than the ones grown in a fully defined
manner," Smith said.
Smith stressed the importance of
interdisciplinary research, saying that
his research with Lahann could not
have been accomplished without their
combined knowledge in biology and
chemical engineering.

Patrons at Conor O'Neill's pub watch Germany play against Australia at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Germany won its match, scoring tour
goals against Australia, which scored none.

"This is actually a perfect, perfect
example ofsomethingthatin mylab we
could not have done alone ... and some-
thing that in Lahann's lab he could not
have done alone. It really took a col-
laboration of different disciplines and
different people and different ideas to
make this work," Smith said. "To me
that's the exciting part about it."
Smith, Lahann and several co-
authors wrote a paper on their research
called "Synthetic polymer coatings for
long-term growth of human embryon-
ic stem cells," which was published last
month in the online journal Nature
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