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Stem cells find their polystyrene niche

29 March 2010

Norwegian scientists have developed a microfluidic platform to grow stem cells outside of the body in a controlled manner for a period of three weeks.  

Stem cells from bone marrow are known as mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and like all adult stem cells they survive in specific microenvironments within the body, known as niches. But it's not so easy to grow them outside the body as they spread out as they grow which makes it difficult to control their microenvironment in vitro, as they tend to inhabit and block feeding channels. Previous microfluidic systems using glass substrates use hazardous chemicals to contain the cells, but Ellen Tenstad at the Vestfold University College in Horten and colleagues have used microtechnology to enable controlled experimental conditions that cannot be achieved using traditional large scale culture. 

Tenstad modified polystyrene with selective oxygen plasma treatment and added a triblock copolymer to produce cell supportive and non-supportive areas. This allows the growth of the cells to be contained in the cell supportive area while the other areas could be used as feeding channels. The device can be made in a quick and user friendly way and allows the stem cells to be cultivated for three weeks, which is longer than previously reported. 'Such strategies may be used for making more representative in vitro models,' says Tenstad.

Cultivating stem cells

Stem cells find their polystyrene niche

Biju Parekkadan, an expert in stem cell biotechnology and immunology at the BioMEMS Resource Centre at Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, US agrees that the device has potential, saying 'with further evaluation, these devices can enable basic biologists to study microenvironmental questions within the bone marrow stem cell niche at a realistic scale.'

Tenstad is enthusiastic about using microfluidics to achieve functionalities that are not currently possible, something that she has achieved with the help of several collaborators. Tenstad believes that 'MSCs have a great potential within research areas focusing on tissue engineering and immunomodulation.' Although Tenstad herself will be focussing on how these cells are involved in blood cell formation.

Laura Howes 


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Link to journal article

Extensive adipogenic and osteogenic differentiation of patterned human mesenchymal stem cells in a microfluidic device
Ellen Tenstad, Anna Tourovskaia, Albert Folch, Ola Myklebost and Edith Rian, Lab Chip, 2010, 10, 1401
DOI: 10.1039/b926738g

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