'Cool' blood stem cell research leads to licensing deal


A Canadian company is betting that cryogenics research at the University of Alberta will set a new standard for stem cell storage and preservation.

Researchers at the U of A have developed a way of cryogenically preserving blood stem cell cultures without the use of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) or other traditional cryoprotective chemicals. LifeBank Cryogenics Corp. has signed an exclusive licensing agreement with University of Alberta to develop the research commercially.

Cryogenically preserved blood stem cells are used to treat cancers and blood disorders, and additional potential therapies for spinal cord, cardiovascular and neurogenerative disorders, among many other ailments, are in development worldwide.

Currently, the universal method for blood stem cell cryopreservation requires the use of DMSO, which are less than ideal because of potential toxic effects. Doctors who use cryogenically preserved cells for transfusions have ways of reducing the toxic effects of DMSO, but these ways reduce the number of cells that survive the process, which jeopardizes the success of the transfusions.

The U of A researchers have used computer modeling as a tool to guide biological experimentation to develop a novel method of cryopreservation that eliminates the use of DMSO--and its toxicity--and thereby increases the retention of cells. The new method has been demonstrated on blood stem cell cultures.

"This research definitely will have huge repercussions, not just in hematopoeic stem cell therapy, but in the whole field of cell storage and transportation," said Lisa Ross-Rodriguez, a U of A graduate student, who works under the joint supervision of Dr. Dr. Locksley McGann, a biophysicist in the U of A Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Janet Elliott, a thermodynamicist in the U of A Faculty of Engineering.

"Often when you need cells for transplantations, you need them right away, and it is our hope that this technology will allow much greater access to preserved healthy cells, and that should have an impact in helping to save people's lives," Ross-Rodriguez said.

"Our new relationship with Lifebank is exciting because it is the final step in seeing our scientific research through from idea to giving patients improved health or even life," Elliott added.

The U of A researchers have presented the results of their work at international conferences. The U of A has patents pending on this technology.

Lifebank is the only umbilical cord blood stem cell bank in Canada to be accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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