Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Stem cell breakthrough, the EU way [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

EU-funded researchers have developed a breakthrough method for culturing large quantities of human embryonic stem (ES) cells under completely chemically controlled conditions without the need for other cells or animal substances. Researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, ...
Stem cell breakthrough, the EU way
EU-funded researchers have developed a breakthrough method for culturing large quantities of human embryonic stem (ES) cells under completely chemically controlled conditions without the need for other cells or animal substances. Researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet, led by Professor Karl Tryggvason, teamed up with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in the US in this pioneering feat that will enable the development of various cell types to be used for disease treatment.

The study, published in Nature Biotechnology, was supported in part by the ESTOOLS ('Platforms for biomedical discovery with human ES cells') project which is funded under the 'Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health' Thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The Integrated Project, which spans 10 countries and is composed of 21 research teams, is devoted to ethical embryonic stem cell research supported by extensive training.

Stem cells operate as an internal repair system because they can divide limitlessly to replenish other cells and can regenerate themselves even after an extended period of inactivity. For example, in the gut and bone marrow, stem cells regularly divide to repair and replace worn out or damaged tissues.

Embryonic stem cells are of particular interest to scientists due to their unique ability to develop into many different kinds of cells in the body. They have been extensively used in laboratories in order to screen new drugs as well as to identify the causes of birth defects. Looking to the future, embryonic stem cells offer immense potential for treating conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Scientists have been working with two kinds of embryonic stem cells: those from animals and those from humans. However, they have been faced with a major difficulty, namely the need to contain human embryonic stem cells in order to culture and develop them. Since human embryonic stem cells are cultured with the aid of animal proteins, they cannot be successfully used in the treatment of humans. Another problem was that although it is possible to culture stem cells on other human cells, or feeder cells, numerous uncontrolled proteins are discharged in the process, rendering research results unreliable.

In this study, researchers have found an alternative means for culturing stem cells that entails the use of a single human protein known as laminin-511, a part of connective tissue to which cells are able to attach. Additionally, this protein is necessary because it enables stem cells to remain as stem cells. Some of the major accomplishments of Professor Tryggvason's research team over the past decades are that several types of laminin were produced through the use of gene technology and now with recombinant techniques. Previously, laminin-511 had been nearly impossible to extract from tissues as well as difficult to produce.

'Now, for the first time, we can produce large quantities of human embryonic stem cells in an environment that is completely chemically defined,' says Professor Karl Tryggvason. 'This opens up new opportunities for developing different types of cell which can then be tested for the treatment of disease.'
Source: Karolinska Institute; Nature Biotechnology

Related information

Record Number: 32160 / Last updated on: 2010-06-01
Category: Report summary
Provider: EC