Growing stem cells on a chip

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New Kyoto University iCeMS technology replicates cell-friendly environment

Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) hold great promise for cell-based therapies, regenerative medicine, drug screening, and other uses in medicine and health. Consequently there is great scientific need to reliably grow these cells -- including embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells (hESCs and hiPSCs) -- to meet such needs.

In our bodies, cells, tissues, and organs surround each other, creating a well-regulated environment. But unfortunately, conventional cell culture apparatus in labs -- such as flat plates or flasks -- are two-dimensional (2D), hindering proper regulation of cell functions.

Now a team of researchers has developed a chip-like plate on which hPSCs can be raised in optimal, 3D conditions. In a new report published in Advanced Healthcare Materials, the scientists describe their invention as a "microfluidic device," which in combination with a thermo-responsive gel allows for the creation of an ideal, artificial microenvironment for hPSC culture and analysis.

Program-Specific Associate Professor Ken-ichiro Kamei of Kyoto University's Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS), who leads the team, explains that the gel, which can be easily transformed into a liquid based on temperature, makes fine-tuning of the culture environment possible.

This new technology should be of interest to researchers focused on microfluidic platform development, tissue engineering, and numerous other uses. Further, "organ on a chip" or "body on a chip" development efforts will be aided by the device, given its ability to recreate in vivo physiological conditions.

Drug screening and chemical toxicological assays are also possible uses, according to Kamei, given the chip's ability to improve cell-culture conditions and thereby obtain more functional cells.

A prototype of the new microfluidic device for hPSCs, consisting of narrow channels embedded in silicon rubber. (iCeMS/Kamei)

Paper Information


Ken-ichiro Kamei, Yoshie Koyama, Yumie Tokunaga, Yasumasa Mashimo, Momoko Yoshioka, Christopher Fockenberg, Rowland Mosbergen, Othmar Korn, Christine Wells, and Yong Chen. (2016). Characterization of Phenotypic and Transcriptional Differences in Human Pluripotent Stem Cells under 2D and 3D Culture Conditions. Advanced Healthcare Materials.