A new method for testing how human stem cells respond to environmental cues could dramatically improve the ability to harness these cells for regenerative medicine and drug-screening applications.

Colony of human pluripotent stem cells, stained for DNA (blue) and the protein Oct4 (green). Image: Zandstra Laboratory, University of Toronto

The method was developed by a University of Toronto (U of T) team in collaboration with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore. It involves using a high throughput platform, combining robotics and automation, to assess the impact of different chemical compounds on human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) – cells that can grow indefinitely or transform into any type of body cell. The researchers grow hPSCs on custom-made micro-environments in which they can control the size and density of stem cell colonies as well as other important parameters.

By controlling the cellular microenvironment, “our technology allows a better understanding of how stem cells are regulated,” says Emanuel Nazareth, the lead researcher and a PhD student in the laboratory of Professor Peter Zandstra at U of T.

One of the key benefits of this technology is the ability to compare how different stem cell lines respond to drugs in order to rapidly identify the most suitable candidate for further drug screening or therapeutic development.

The U of T work is part of the International Stem Cell Initiative, a worldwide collaborative effort that aims to establish a consensus on basic criteria and techniques to underpin the eventual development of applications for hPSCs in human medicine.

 

For further information contact:

Emanuel Nazareth or Peter Zandstra
Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering
University of Toroto, Canada
Email: emanuel.nazareth@utoronto.ca
Email: peter.zandstra@utoronto.ca