Cambridge scientists help develop new stem cell method

Caithlin Ng 25 March 2017

Scientists at the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have developed a new stem cell method allowing the more efficient production of human brain and muscle cells. The results of the study were published on March 23 in the scientific journal Stem Cell Reports.

The new technique will allow the generation of millions of these functional cells in the space of a few days, and has the potential to create new avenues in the study of disease through the increased diversity of new cell types.

The University of Cambridge Research website describes these human stem cells as having “the ability to develop into almost any type of tissue, including brain cells. They hold huge potential for studying human development and the impact of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease”. While it takes between nine and 12 months for a single brain cell to fully develop in humans, and three to 20 weeks for scientists to create human brain cells using current existing methods, the new technology, OPTi-OX, promises to be less time-consuming.

Using OPTi-OX, the research team was able to create “a large and nearly pure population of identical cells” at an unprecedented rate, which has the potential for further drug discovery, and to assist in methods of therapy which require a great amount of cells.

Lead author and clinician, Dr Mark Kotter of the University of Cambridge, said, “Neurons produced in this study are already being used to understand brain development and function. This method opens the doors to producing all sorts of hard-to-access cells and tissues so we can better our understanding of diseases and the response of these tissues to newly developed therapeutics.”