A research team at the University of Surrey and the University of California-Irvine say they developed a scaffold of carbon nanotubes upon which human embryonic stem cells can be grown into a variety of tissues. These new building blocks reportedly mimic the surface of the body’s natural support cells and act as scaffolding for stem cells to grow on. Cells that have previously relied on external living cells can now be grown safely in the laboratory, paving the way for revolutionary steps in replacing tissue after injury or disease, according to the scientists.

“We show that controlled exposure of carbon nanotubes to sonication and the amount of energy delivered to the dispersion directly impacts the surface properties allowing for control over the nanotopography of the resulting carbon nanotube films, which in turn has demonstrable effects upon in vitro human embryonic stem cells cultures,” wrote the investigators in the study (“Growth and Proliferation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells on Fully Synthetic Scaffolds Based on Carbon Nanotubes”), which is published in Applied Materials & Interfaces.

“Synthetic stem cell scaffolding has the potential to change the lives of thousands of people, suffering from diseases such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as vision and hearing loss,” said Alan Dalton, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the physical department at the University of Surrey. “It could lead to cheaper transplant treatments and could potentially one day allow us to produce whole human organs without the need for donors.”

Traditionally, human embryonic stem cells are cultivated with the help of proteins from animals, which rules out use in the treatment of humans, explained Dr. Dalton, who added that growing stem cells on other human cells risks contamination with pathogens that could transmit diseases to patients.

“While carbon nanotubes have been used in the field of biomedicine for some time, their use in human stem cell research has not previously been explored successfully,” pointed out Dr. Dalton.

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