Partners will screen small molecule libraries using CombiCult technology.

U.K. stem cell technologies firm Plasticell is to provide UCB with services based on its CombiCult™ screening technology to help identify new indications for compounds in stem cell biology, differentiation, and, potentially, tissue regeneration.

Plasticell’s CombiCult platform is a bead-based high-throughput screening system designed to test cell culture variables in random combinations to discover optimal laboratory protocols for the differentiation of adult or pluripotent stem cells. For the collaboration with UCB, the CombiCult technology will be used to test libraries of UCB compounds with known targets, in parallel, on a broad range of stem cells, including human embryonic, neural, and mesenchymal stem cell types.

“We expect some very interesting outcomes from the synergy between annotated chemistry and multiplexed stem cell screening,” comments Jey Jeyakumar, Ph.D., Plasticell senior scientist. The screens will rapidly reveal new uses for well-characterized compounds in directing stem cell differentiation, and will yield proprietary components for lower cost and superior performance stem cell culture media.”

UCB hopes the partnership will identify applications for well-characterized compounds in discovery research and potentially cell therapeutics. “Moreover, regenerative medicine is not limited to the use of stem cells as therapeutic agents,” adds Matthew Hickling, M.D., senior medical advisor at UCB. “Compounds that influence the fate of stem cells will have multiple applications, and we are pleased to be working with Plasticell who are at the cutting edge in this field.”

Plasticell’s Combinatorial Cell Culture approach allows millions of combinations of cell culture variables to be tested in parallel, rapidly identifying an optimal protocol for any given outcome in cell biology. This level of multiplexing hinges on the ability to miniaturize the technology by growing colonies of cells on the surface of specialized microscopic bead microcarriers, the firm claims.

The miniature cell units are then shuffled through various combinations of growth media, which vary in composition with respect to factors such as nutrients, growth factors, hormones, and synthetic chemicals, etc. A key feature of the platform is the ability to label microcarriers with a unique tag each time they are exposed to a different culture medium, so the movement of the cell unit through the different media can be inferred by analyzing the associated tags.

Plasticell is exploiting its technologies in collaboration with academic and industry partnerships. The firm has also established a dedicated therapeutics operation focused on the discovery of regenerative cell therapies. Plasticell Therapeutics is leveraging the firm’s CombiScreen™ technology, which uses physiologically relevant stem/progenitor cells to screen libraries of drug candidates for regenerative cell therapies.

In October Plasticell launched its second-generation CombiCult platform. The new system features disposable labware for stem cell culture, which will allow scientists to carry out all bead manipulations and media changes in a single device, the firm claims. The workflow for the new system also features integrated modules for automated bead sorting and fluorescent label deconvolution, novel proprietary bioinformatics software has been added for data handling and analysis. Plasticell suggests the overall improvements have essentially eliminated the need for technically skilled operators, while at the same time increasing screening throughput.

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