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Seaweed Spawns Solutions to Stem Cell Storage and Treatment

PARAMEDICS and physicians will soon see a cost-effective solution to stem cell use through the pragmatic use of seaweed to treat wounds, particularly in emergency situations such as battlefields.

Alginate, a natural extract of seaweed, is commonly used independently in the cosmetic, healthcare, and food industries. Stem cells, on the other hand, are difficult to put to practical use. Their survival is constrained by environmental conditions; cultured cells require lab conditions of 37°C, atmospheric oxygen, and 5% carbon dioxide. Now, a team from the University of Newcastle (NCL), Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, have found a smart solution to the problem.

Adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells have impressive healing properties, such as reducing inflammation and increasing rates of wound closure. Harnessing the power of alginate, the study demonstrated an easy, low-cost way of retaining these properties outside of the lab dish.

The key to prolonged stem storage is the encapsulation of the cells in an alginate gel extracted from brown seaweed, which effectively protects them from the external environment. Unprotected stem cells typically begin lysing (expanding to the point of destruction) in ≤1 day. The corset-like mode of alginate storage constricts the stem cells, countering this process. The study found that, under temperatures ranging from 4–21°C, stem cell life was prolonged by more than 3 days when stored in the alginate gel, with 90% of cells remaining viable for use.

The alginate solution, dubbed ‘Stem-gell’, can be combined and placed in a vial of calcium chloride to form a gel comprised of tiny cross-linked beads, or it can be moulded to form a film or pad ideal for use in plasters and bandages. The chemicals produced by the stored stem cells then begin work on the healing and closure of a wound. “One circular disc just an inch in diameter was demonstrated in our study to effectively preserve a million stem cells and could easily contain up to 10 million,” said Dr Stephen Swioklo, Research Associate, Institute of Genetic Medicine, NCL.

Stem-gell has the potential to innovate therapeutics and healing across the board, and a particularly exciting prospect arises with the notion of cell printing; doctor’s surgeries which are able to print tissues at will from stem cells stored in alginate gel is something that is foreseeable in the not-so-distant future.

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