TECH BUZZ ||HOT LABS
At UK startup Atelerix,
developed a way to
for shipping at room
MEDICAL TECHNOLOGIES based on manipulating cells to fight disease and create artificial
tissues to replace natural joints and organs
are in the news today—and rapidly approaching commercialization. Yet the engineering to
mass market these technologies lags sadly
behind the science. This month, we look at two
labs that seek to build the infrastructure that
tomorrow’s cures require.
THE LAB Atelerix Ltd., Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. Che Connon,
chief scientific officer and professor of tissue engineering at Newcastle
OBJECTIVE Develop a way to store and ship cells for gene therapy and
laboratory experiments at room temperature rather than cryocooling them.
DEVELOPMEN T A scalable alginate-based system to encapsulate cells and
keep them alive for up to two weeks at just below room temperature.
Many companies are growing cells to treat disease or for research and testing. This requires specialized facilities. As these facilities scale up, developers
will need a better way to deliver those cells to hospitals and
Today, cryopreservation is the most common way to store
and ship cells. This first involves flooding the cells with
a cryoprotectant, such as dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). It
prevents ice formation during freezing and defrosting, since
expanding ice can puncture and destroy cells.
Cryopreservation raises several issues, said Che Connon,
chief scientific officer of Atelerix, a firm developing a room-
temperature alternative to the process. Cryoprotectants,
which are toxic to cells, must be washed out carefully after
thawing, and some cells are likely to change genetically and
behaviorally after the process.
In addition, cryopreservation systems require specialists to
operate their complex equipment. The cells also need time
to thaw and acclimate to room temperature. At that point,
clinicians must use them quickly, making it more difficult to
schedule everyone needed to implant the cells into a patient.
Connon’s solution is embed the cells in alginate, a polysaccharide derived from brown algae that forms a viscous gel
upon contact with water. Biomedical researchers have long