Mighty promising as they are, stem cells certainly aren't easy to come by. Recent scientific advances have however given their production a much-needed boost, with a Nobel-prize winning technology that turns skin cells into embryonic-like stem cells and another that promises salamander-like regenerative abilities being just a couple of examples. The latest breakthrough in the area comes from Japanese researchers who have developed a nanofiber matrix for culturing human stem cells, that they claim improves on current techniques.

The work focuses on human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), which have the ability to mature into any type of adult cell, be they those of the eyes, lungs or hair follicles. But that's assuming they can be taken up successfully by the host. Working to improve the odds on this front, scientists have been exploring ways of culturing pluripotent stem cells in a way that mimics the physiological conditions of the human body, allowing them to grow in three dimensions rather than in two dimensions, as they would in a petrie dish.

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Among this group is a team from Japan's Kyoto University, which has developed a 3D culturing system it says outperforms the current technologies that can only produce low quantities of low-quality stem cells. The system consists of gelatin nanofibers on a synthetic mesh made from biodegradable polyglycolic acid, resulting in what the researchers describe as a "fiber-on-fiber" (FF) matrix.

The team found that seeding human embryonic stem cells onto this type of matrix saw them adhere well, and enabled an easy exchange of growth factors and supplements. This led to what the researchers describe as robust growth, with more than 95 percent of the cells growing and forming colonies after just four days of culture.

And by designing a special gas-permeable cell culture bag, the team also demonstrated how they could scale up the approach. This is because several of the cell-loaded matrices can be folded up and placed inside the bag, with testing showing that this approach yielded larger again numbers of cells. What's more, the FF matrix could even prove useful in culturing other cell types.

"Our method offers an efficient way to expand hPSCs of high quality within a shorter term," the team writes in its research paper. "Additionally, as nanofiber matrices are advantageous for culturing other adherent cells, including hPSC-derived differentiated cells, FF matrix might be applicable to the large-scale production of differentiated functional cells for various applications."

The research was published in the journal Biomaterials.

Source: Kyoto University