Methods for growing cells in bioprocessing continually evolve. One way to grow cells is in a hydrogel, which is essentially a polymer mesh that holds water. “The challenge has been finding an appropriate hydrogel,” says Trivia Frazier, PhD, president, and CEO at Obatala Sciences in New Orleans. “We can characterize it as a home for the cells that allows them to grow in three dimensions.”

Trivia Frazier, PhD

During her postdoctoral work at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Frazier recalls: “We were just thinking of ways to provide cells with the same cues, the same environmental factors, and supply nutrients like they are inside the body, and do that in a way that supports cell growth and differentiation, plus functionality.” To accomplish that, Frazier decided to develop human-derived hydrogels from discarded medical waste. That idea, she says, “just sort of materialized, and developing hydrogels from recycled waste materials from medical procedures is a great approach to improving the environment.”

The hydrogels from Obatala Sciences can be used to grow a range of cell types, including a variety of immune system cells. In a human-derived hydrogel, cells “get those signals that are similar to what they experience inside the body,” Frazier says. These hydrogels could be used in early development of therapies through large-scale manufacturing.

This approach to bioprocessing offers other benefits. “There is a need for us to get a better understanding of how patients of varying backgrounds respond to therapies, and our hydrogels became a way to do that,” Frazier says. As an example, she says that these hydrogels could be used in clinical trials as a patient-stratification mechanism.

So, a bioprocessor could use human-derived hydrogels to grow cells in a more natural environment. Plus, this approach could make bioprocessing a little greener and more able to address diversity. That’s quite a trio of benefits for a technology that just materialized, almost by accident.