Stem cell therapy could become cheaper and widely available

stem cell

Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have developed a 3D printed system for harvesting stem cells from bioreactors that could enable the high quality, wide-scale stem cell production in Australia at a lower cost. 

While stem cells offer great promise in treating many diseases and injuries by replacing damaged cells, the current technology used is labour intensive, time consuming and expensive. 

UTS biomedical engineer, Professor Majid Warkiani, led the translational research in collaboration with industry partner Regeneus – an Australian biotechnology company developing stem cell therapies to treat inflammatory conditions and pain. 

“Our cutting-edge technology, which uses 3D printing and microfluidics to integrate a number of production steps into one device can help make stem cell therapies more widely available to patients at a lower cost,” Warkiani said. 

“While this world-first system is currently at the prototype stage, we are working closely with biotechnology companies to commercialise the technology. Importantly, it is a closed system with no human intervention, which is necessary for current good manufacturing practices.” 

stem cell
Modular 3D printed microfluidic system. Image credit: UTS.

Microfluidics precisely control fluid at microscopic levels and can be used to manipulate cells and particles. Advances in 3D printing have enabled the microfluidic equipment to be directly constructed, through rapid prototyping and building integrated systems. 

The new system was developed to process mesenchymal stem cells, a type of adult stem cell that can divide and differentiate into multiple tissue cells including bone, cartilage, muscle, fat, and connective tissue. 

Mesenchymal stem cells are initially extracted from human bone marrow, fat tissue or blood. They are then transferred to a bioreactor in the lab and combined with microcarriers to allow the cells to proliferate. 

The new system combines four micromixers, one spiral microfluidic separator and one microfluidic concentrator to detach and separate the mesenchymal stem cells from microcarriers and concentrate them for downstream processing. 

Warkiani said other bioprocessing industrial challenges can also be addressed using the same technology and workflow, helping to reduce costs and increase the quality of a range of life-saving products, including stem cells and CAR-T cells. 

The UTS study was recently published in the journal Bioresources and Bioprocessing.