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Harnessing Stem Cells for Drug Discovery: Part 1

Advances in Culturing Stem Cells

Stem cells may hold the answer to one of the biggest medical challenges, replacing tissues and organs. Exciting progress is being made on that front, and in the process stem cells have rapidly become key reagents in drug discovery and development pipelines.

Stem cells can be differentiated into specific cell lineages providing access to many tissue subtypes that are difficult to culture or maintain in a laboratory setting. The advent of improved induced pluripotent stem cell induction (iPSC) and differentiation protocols has expanded the capabilities even further with high quality and quantity cells available for a variety of human tissues. Scientist vendors provide iPSC cell line development available including Cellectis’s iPS engineering hub. The pharmaceutical industry hopes to harness the amazing potential of stem cells for use in drug discovery and development.1

Image credit: (2)
© 2006 Terese Winslow

In this blog series, we discuss how advances in the culturing and differentiation techniques is improving and creating efficient, reliable stem cell lines; how stem cells are advancing compound screening platforms alongside predicting in vivo toxicity and drug-like properties of lead molecules; and how stem cells provide a platform to explore disease mechanisms.

Advances in stem cell production, maintenance, and differentiation

The major features - self-renewal and differentiation - that make stem cells interesting, also make culturing stem cells quite difficult. Precocious differentiation can halt self-renewing potential and alter the differentiation capabilities of the entire culture. Improved culture mediums promote self-renewal and can suppress differentiation. Additionally, differentiation protocols and culture medium development clearly directs and selects for the desired cell type. Several vendors at Scientist offer custom culture medium for stem cell line maintenance and differentiation. For example, neural induction medium from Gibco streamlines neuronal cell differentiation, eliminating embryoid body formation and shortening the protocol to only seven days. These advances enable companies and researchers to create high quality cells providing a solid foundation for further research.1

As methods for manipulating stem cells are expanding, the opportunities to improve drug discovery are also expanding. In the next blogs from this series, we discuss how stem cells are being used to predict drug-like properties and the use of stem cells in disease models.

  1. Cromley, J. Stem cells rapidly gaining traction in research and drug discovery. Drug Discovery World. Summer 2013.