Scientists Develop Low-Cost Device to Enhance Safety in Cell Therapy


Researchers from MIT and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology have developed a small, low-cost device that could significantly improve the safety and effectiveness of cell therapy treatments for patients with spinal cord injuries. Cell therapy involves reprogramming a patient’s skin or blood cells to create induced pluripotent stem cells, which are then coaxed to differentiate into progenitor cells for transplantation into the patient. These progenitor cells have the potential to regenerate parts of the injured spinal cord. However, there is a risk that undifferentiated pluripotent stem cells remaining in the cell batch can form tumors.

To address this issue, the research team built a microfluidic cell sorter that can effectively remove approximately half of the undifferentiated cells without any damage to the fully-formed progenitor cells. The high-throughput device can sort over 3 million cells per minute, and by chaining multiple devices together, it is possible to sort over 500 million cells per minute. The plastic chip containing the sorter can be mass-produced at a low cost, making it an easily implementable solution for improving the safety of cell therapy treatments.

Jongyoon Han, an MIT professor and co-lead principal investigator of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) research group, emphasizes the importance of manufacturing cell therapies cost-effectively, reliably, and safely to maximize their impact. Undifferentiated induced pluripotent stem cells pose a significant challenge in cell therapy as they can potentially develop into cancer-like cells. Clinicians and researchers have been unable to identify a specific marker that is exclusive to these undifferentiated cells, making their removal challenging. Chemical treatment techniques, while selective, can also harm the differentiated cells.

The microfluidic sorter, previously developed by the research team, has been used to sort immune cells and mesenchymal stromal cells in the past. Now, the team is expanding its use to include other stem cell types, such as induced pluripotent stem cells. The goal is to enhance tissue repair after spinal cord injuries, which currently lack effective regenerative treatment approaches.

The researchers found that pluripotent stem cells tend to be larger than their derived progenitors. This size difference is attributed to the undifferentiated cells having a higher number of active genes in their nucleus. As the cells differentiate, many genes are turned off or suppressed, leading to a significant reduction in nucleus size.

This innovative device offers a promising solution to improve the safety and efficacy of cell therapy treatments for patients with spinal cord injuries. By effectively removing undifferentiated cells that can potentially form tumors, this low-cost device has the potential to make cell therapies more reliable and easily accessible. With further development and research, it could pave the way for more successful and safer cell therapy treatments in the future.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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