The Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT) in St. Ingbert, Germany and its partners began building a library of pluripotent stem cells in January with the idea being to collect from patients with specific diseases or genetic mutations.
Eight months on and the project – which is known as the European Bank for induced pluripotent Stem Cells (EBiSC) – is now ready to start supplying the collected stem cells to drug developers.
Long term the plan is to base the biobank at sites in Cambridge, UK and Sulzbach, Germany. However, at present cells are being stored by IBMT according to project leader Julia Neubauer, who said expertise in this area was what led the organisation to be involved.
She explained that IBMT scientists are responsible for freezing the cells and automating cell cultivation, adding that for efficient long-term storage of functional stem cells they have to be cooled down to temperatures of below 130 degrees Celsius in a controlled way.
“Cells don’t like being removed from the surface they are grown on, but that’s what people used to do in order to freeze them. Our method allows the cells to stay adherent,” Neubauer said, citing the ‘extremely gentle’ freezing process developed the IBMT team.
The organisation also had to come up with a way of safely accessing the frozen cells according to Neubauer, who said: “It’s just like when you go to your refrigerator at home – it’s not a good idea to leave the door open too long.”
Solving the problem involved collaborating with industrial partner Askion GmbH with which IBMT developed hood that protect the other samples whenever the cryotank is opened.
The next stage of the biobank project is the development of ways of culturing sample cells into usable stock to order.
IBMT is currently assessing methods involving cell growth in stirred tank bioreactors as well as a separate automated approach involving robots according to Neubauer, who said: “By the time the project is completed we’ll know which is the better method for what we’re trying to do.”