Scientists at the University of Nottingham in England have developed a synthetic material that could facilitate mass producing human stem cells. The discovery could lead to the creation of “stem cell factories” and may be the key to further innovations in the field of regenerative medicine.

Regenerative medicine, or medical treatments that replace human cells, tissues, and organs, has the potential to offer patients with medical conditions considered “beyond repair” a new chance at life. According to the Mayo Clinic, stem cells hold the key to turning this potential into a reality. As explained in the study, the material, a substrate (a molecule another substance is applied to), could give researchers the power to grow an endless supply of stem cells through the creation of stem cell factories.

"The possibilities for regenerative medicine are still being researched in the form of clinical trials," lead researcher Morgan Alexander explained in a statement. "What we are doing here is paving the way for the manufacture of stem cells in large numbers when those therapies are proved to be safe and effective."

Regenerative medicine is described as any process that creates living functional tissue to replace tissue of organ function lost to disease or injury. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) credits the first successful kidney transplant in 1954 as the birth of regenerative medicine. Today, transplant medicine has transformed and progressed, with around half a million Americans benefitting from a transplant each year. Regenerative medicine can now not only repair injuries with tissue from donors, but actually regrow the tissue in a laboratory. It is in this sector of regenerative medicine that the ability to create stem cell factories would truly be beneficial.

The team foresees their findings being implemented in the regrowth of cells lost during heart attack. As co-author Chris Denning explains in a video press release on the study, the average patient loses around five billion cells during a heart attack. Replacing these cells would significantly increase a patient’s chances of long-term survival.

“The aim of a stem cell factory is absolutely right,” Denning said. “We need to produce really quite vast numbers of these cells because we’re not talking about treating one patient. …We need trillions of cells to produce.”

Denning predicts that synthetic stem cell growing material could be used to help patients in as little as two or three years.

Source: Denning C, Celiz AD, Smith JGW, et al. Discovery of a Novel Polymer for Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Expansion and Multilineage Differentiation. Advanced Materials. 2015.