A new mechanical device may allow scientists to ship living stem cells on aircraft. The credit for the new invention goes to a team of engineering students from the University of California’s Jacobs School of Engineering. Dr Noelia Kunzevitzky and Dr Jeffrey Goldberg sponsored this project.
There are two major problems that the biomedical research community faces for transporting stem cells on aircraft: stem cells should not be allowed to group, as when this happens, their useful characteristics are lost and they start developing into specific type of cells that the clump or tissue requires. To prevent such assembly, researchers need to constantly agitate the stem cells containing vials. Secondly, in the laboratories, there are electronically operated devices that can keep stem cells isolated, but on most of the planes, especially those coming under FAA (US Federal Aviation Administration) guidelines, people are not allowed to use any electronic devices. There are no exemptions for researchers in this regard. As a result, researchers have to travel from one place to another, and their research slows down because not every laboratory may be equipped as desired.
Obviously, a new mechanical device was needed. What the engineering students came up was based on a mechanism similar to mechanical clocks, and it just may be able to ship living stem cells on aircraft. Like the springs in the mechanical clock, they used a series of springs with constant torque. The springs in turn move a gear box, which rotates a timing belt that holds the vials with those stem cells. As of now, the device is capable of rotating eight times each minute. Every such spring is capable of shaking the vials for almost 12 hours and it is possible to include several such springs in the device. Effectively, the stem cells can be kept in isolation from other cells within the vials. Though the prototype has been developed, the team still needs to work on minor flaws attributable to system friction and make the device perfect for commercial application.
Stem cell-based therapies are the answer to several debilitating human ailments. However, research needs to be done at more than one location and results need to be confirmed by more than one laboratory for the scientific community to accept such results. This means that scientists at different locations need to experiment with the same sample of stem cells. In addition, some laboratories are better equipped to undertake a particular type of research or process which may form part of the entire experiment. Transportation of stem cells has been the hurdle faced by researchers so far.
This new mechanical device has considerably improved commercial prospects of stem cell-based cures as well, as it would be possible to transport and ship such therapies on aircraft. According to Dr Kunzevitzky, the costs of such therapies would come down considerably. So far, the therapies could only be administered at laboratories, making them rather expensive and beyond the reach of most people. In addition, the invention could trigger medical research in all directions due to commercial viability. Dr. Kunzevitzky is of the opinion that the impact will be felt by patients suffering with ailments such as macular degeneration and glaucoma as well as a host of other diseases.
By: Rebecca Savastio