13th July 2010 - A new collaborative research project has secured a government investment of £200,000 to develop technology which could pave the way for dramatic advances in life science research.
North East-based Orla Protein Technologies Ltd, The UK Stem Cell Bank (UKSCB) and the Newcastle University, have been awarded a grant by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), to develop technology which could dramatically improve the way cells are grown in a laboratory.
The study of mammalian cells cultured in the lab has become an increasingly powerful research tool, helping to break new ground in the fields of tissue engineering, animal-free drug testing and regenerative medicines. As techniques and technology has improved, so too has the ability to obtain meaningful results – allowing researchers to make inroads into understanding the fundamental mechanisms of cell behaviour.
Today, most types of mammalian cells, including stem cells, can be grown. There are limitations however as the human body is complex and it is difficult to replicate the way cells behave in the human body in an artificial environment. For instance, liver cells grown on flat surfaces behave quite differently from those grown in 3-dimensional structures like those encountered in the body, and stem cells are difficult to grow without complicated support systems.
Leading nano biotechnology company Orla has created a system to help overcome this problem, by engineering unique natural surfaces which are simple, animal-free and work to successfully mimic in vivo environments. The product has been tested on different cell types by a range of research groups, including UKSCB, with promising results, and it’s hoped that further research and development could see the technology replacing current, more complex methods.
Orla Protein Technologies, Chief Executive Officer, Dale Athey, said: “We have been developing our system for the last 5 years and already have a range of cell signal proteins that scientists can use. These tell the cells to attach, grow or change into other cell types and these are the kind of controls that the researchers need.
“Our system can also provide these signals in any concentration, mixture or ratio – and that’s important too, as not all stem cells are the same and scientists need to be able to choose a growth system that exactly matches their needs.”
The study begins this month, bringing together partners with cutting-edge expertise in protein production and functionalised protein surfaces (Orla), culture and characterisation of human embyonic stem cell (hESC) lines (UKSCB) and cell therapies, good manufacturing processes (GMP) production, derivation and regulatory and ethical aspects of hESC cells (Newcastle University).
Dale added: “Together we will design, develop & validate novel cell culture surfaces using entirely animal-free materials. These surfaces will be made of glass that has been functionalised by unique protein monolayers and evaluated in different formats that allow for transition from bench to large scale GMP manufacture.
“The development will lead to directly marketable products and services applicable to the development of stem cell therapies for serious & debilitating illnesses that affect significant numbers of people. It will advance the field of hESC culture, develop regenerative medicine and keep the UK at the forefront of this vital economic area.”