Nottingham University develops hydrogel for growing heart tissue from stem cells

15 April 2014

A multidisciplinary team at Nottingham University has developed a new hydrogel that could simplify the production of stem cells and their differentiation into specific tissues for use in regenerative medicine.

The team has created a new stem cell micro-environment which they have found has allowed both the self-renewal of cells and then their evolution into cardiomyocyte (heart) cells. The material is a hydrogel containing two polymers — an alginate-rich environment which allows proliferation of cells with a simple chemical switch to render the environment collagen-rich when the cell population is large enough. This change triggers the next stage of cell growth when cells develop a specific purpose.

Cell therapy using stem cells has the potential to repair human tissue and maintain organ function in chronic disease and age-related illnesses. However, taking developments out of the lab and mass-produce such a complex living material has so far been a major hurdle.

There are two distinct phases in the production of stem cell products; proliferation (making enough cells to form large tissue) and differentiation (turning the basic stem cells into functional cells, such as heart cells). The material environment required for these two phases are different and the new hydrogel is the first substance that does both jobs.

Professor of Advanced Drug Delivery and Tissue Engineering, Kevin Shakesheff, said: “Our new combination of hydrogels is a first. It allows dense tissue structures to be produced from human pluripotent stem cells (HPSC) in a single step process never achieved before. The discovery has important implications for the future of manufacturing in regenerative medicine. This field of healthcare is a major priority for the UK and we are seeing increasing investment in future manufacturing processes to ensure we are ready to deliver real treatments to patients when HPSC products and treatments go to trial and become standard.”


Dixon JE, et al. Combined hydrogels that switch human pluripotent stem cells from self-renewal to differentiation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1319685111



To top