New tech to preserve cells with lower cost, fewer side effects

Chinese scientists have developed a new low-cost technology for cell cryopreservation, which is expected to bring a breakthrough in cell therapies treating blood diseases and some cancers.

Cell therapy refers to transplanting cells into a patient after in vitro culture in order to repair or replace the damaged tissues or cells in the human body.

The cryopreservation technology, allowing cells to stop metabolism at 80 or 196 degrees Celsius below zero, could preserve their viability and functions for a long time.

During the freezing, DMSO, an organic solvent, is often used to prevent ice crystals from forming in cells as crystals cause cell death, rendering the cells useless for transplant.

However, DMSO is associated with possible toxicity and a range of serious side effects following cell transplantation.

In the new study, researchers from Tianjin University developed the technology based on betaine, a natural zwitterionic molecule, to replace DMSO.

Betaine is rich in microorganisms, plants and animals. Zwitterionic refers to a molecule with two or more functional groups, of which at least one has a positive and one has a negative electrical charge and the net charge of the entire molecule is zero.

According to the research published in the journal Biomacromolecules, the researchers successfully cryopreserved cartilage cells with a survival efficiency of more than 90 percent.

The recovered cartilage cells maintained normal functionalities with no crystal formation or toxicity, and are expected to be directly used for clinical treatment after cell recovery.

The researchers said the new technology is low-cost and has few side effects, and cryopreservation tests for other types of human cells are currently underway.

A national patent has been granted for the new technology and the researchers have applied for a Patent Cooperation Treaty patent.