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University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers led by stem-cell pioneer James Thomson have grown two proof-of-concept human cell cultures under cleaner and better-defined lab conditions than previous cultures.
The research, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, could pave the way for stem-cell treatments with lower risk of causing infections because of animal-cell contamination. Growing stem cells in the lab requires a careful mix of nutrients, hormones and other chemicals. Previously, "feeder" cells obtained from mouse embryos were used to grow many of the currently available human stem cells. These new cells are free of any mouse or other animal cells.
Thomson said that while this was not the first time stem cells had been grown without using animal cells for support, the research methods used were better defined, meaning other researchers will be able to benefit from them more easily.
However, abnormalities arose in both stem-cell cultures after four and seven months of growth, respectively. That means further research is going to be needed before the technique can be used reliably. These stem cells were not intended to be used in clinical research, however. They served their purpose by showing how growth in an environment free of animal cells could be accomplished.
Stem cells from existing cultures were also grown under the new conditions, and they did fine.
The work was done at the WiCell Research Institute, a privately funded non-profit organization operated by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Federal restrictions would not have allowed a public institution to create new stem-cell cultures.An abstract and full list of authors is available through the Nature Biotechnology website.