Reversible 3-D cell culture gel invented

Sep 28, 2008

Singapore's Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, has invented a unique user-friendly gel that can liquefy on demand, with the potential to revolutionize three-dimensional (3D) cell culture for medical research.

As reported in Nature Nanotechnology (Y.S. Pek, A. C. A. Wan, A. Shekaran, L. Zhuo and J. Y. Ying, "A Thixotropic Nanocomposite Gel for Three-Dimensional Cell Culture"), IBN's novel gel media has the unique ability to liquefy when it is subjected to a moderate shear force and rapidly resolidifies into a gel within one minute upon removal of the force. This phenomenon of reverting between a gel and a liquid state is known as thixotropy.

IBN's thixotropic gel is synthesized from a nanocomposite of silica and polyethylene glycol (PEG) under room temperature, without special storage conditions. This novel material facilitates the safe and convenient culture of cells in 3D since cells can be easily added to the gel matrix without any chemical processes.

According to IBN Executive Director Jackie Y. Ying, Ph.D., "Cell culture is conventionally performed on a flat surface such as glass slides. It is an essential process in biological and medical research, and is widely used to process cells, synthesize biologics and develop treatments for a large variety of diseases.

"Cell culture within a 3D matrix would better mimic the actual conditions in the body as compared to the conventional 2D cell culture on flat surfaces. 3D cell culture also promises the development of better cell assays for drug screening," Dr. Ying added.

Another key feature of IBN's gel is the ease with which researchers can transfer the cultured cells from the matrix by pipetting the required amount from the liquefied gel.

Unlike conventional cell culture, trypsin is not required to detach the cultured cells from the solid media. As trypsin is an enzyme that is known to damage cells, especially in stem cell
cultures, the long-term quality and viability of cells cultured using IBN's thixotropic gel would improve substantially without the exposure to this enzyme.

Researchers are also able to control the gel's stiffness, thus facilitating the differentiation of stem cells into specific cell types.

"Ways to control stem cell differentiation are important as stem cells can be differentiated into various cell types. Our gel can provide a novel method of studying stem cell differentiation, as well as an effective new means of introducing biological signals to cells to investigate their effect in 3D cultures," said Shona Pek, IBN Research Officer.

Andrew Wan, Ph.D., IBN Team Leader and Principal Research Scientist, added, "Another interesting property of the gel is its ability to support the extracellular matrix (ECM) secretions of cells. Gel stiffness is modulated by ECM secretions, and can be used to study ECM production by cells responding to drug treatments or disease conditions.

"The thixotropic gel may then provide new insights for basic research and drug development," Dr. Wan added.

Source: Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

Explore further: Graphene and diamonds prove a slippery combination

Related Stories

Printing 3-D graphene structures for tissue engineering

May 19, 2015

Ever since single-layer graphene burst onto the science scene in 2004, the possibilities for the promising material have seemed nearly endless. With its high electrical conductivity, ability to store energy, ...

Gel filled with nanosponges cleans up MRSA infections

May 18, 2015

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego developed a gel filled with toxin-absorbing nanosponges that could lead to an effective treatment for skin and wound infections caused by MRSA (methicillin-resistant ...

CLAIRE brings electron microscopy to soft materials

May 14, 2015

Soft matter encompasses a broad swath of materials, including liquids, polymers, gels, foam and - most importantly - biomolecules. At the heart of soft materials, governing their overall properties and capabilities, ...

Sodium selective DNAzyme sensor

May 11, 2015

(Phys.org)—Sodium ions are key regulators in cellular processes. The fluids in cells, whether it is water, blood plasma, or nutrients, are regulated by the sodium concentration in cells. If scientists could ...

Chemists create self-healing, luminescent wonder gels

May 05, 2015

Chemists from Trinity College Dublin followed their own unique recipe to cook up a breakthrough that could have significant applications in skin graft operations and in protecting valuable electronics and ...

Recommended for you

Graphene and diamonds prove a slippery combination

May 25, 2015

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have found a way to use tiny diamonds and graphene to give friction the slip, creating a new material combination that demonstrates ...

Artificial muscles get graphene boost

May 22, 2015

Researchers in South Korea have developed an electrode consisting of a single-atom-thick layer of carbon to help make more durable artificial muscles.

How to make continuous rolls of graphene

May 21, 2015

Graphene is a material with a host of potential applications, including in flexible light sources, solar panels that could be integrated into windows, and membranes to desalinate and purify water. But all ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.