In the past year we developed a new cell culture platform that will be useful for growing pluripotent stem cells. These cells like to live in soft surroundings like those found inside the human body, and dislike hard plastic surfaces, which they are normally grown on in the lab. We found a way to make materials that reproduce the essential features of the the pluripotent stem cell’s natural environment, in a way that is easy to do and cost effective. We hope this advance will be useful to the many researchers who are trying to grow replacement cells and organs to treat diseases like liver failure and diabetes.
In addition, we are working to figure out how pluripotent cells know how to grow and when to stop growing. Surprisingly, no one knows the answer to this question. It is an important one, though, since we need cells to grow quickly if we want to grow replacement organs in the lab, but to stop growing once the organ reaches the right size. We have made good progress in answering this question in the past year, and hope to report our findings in this area in 2016.