Dr Rongjun Chen has been awarded a highly-competitive Proof of Concept (PoC) grant by Imperial Innovations.
The £25,000 award will enable Dr Chen - a senior lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering - to further develop and commercialise patented technology for DMSO-free cryopreservation of mammalian cells for cell therapy.
Cryopreservation is a process that involves cooling biological material to a very low temperature in order to protect it from damage or decay. It plays a vital role in the delivery of cell-based therapies, including blood transfusion, stem cell regenerative medicine, lymphocyte immunotherapy and fertility preservation. The global cell banking market for stem cells alone is expected to reach $3.96 bn by 2021 from $1.58 bn in 2016.
Live cell cryopreservation typically uses high concentrations of a toxic preservation agent known as dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), which has a number of associated issues including high cytotoxicity (i.e. toxic to cells), and damaging cellular functionality.
Therefore, there is significant interest in developing alternative bioprotectants. New research is investigating the application of trehalose, a hydrophilic disaccharide of glucose accumulated in a wide variety of organisms that can tolerate extreme freezing or drying.
Trehalose has previously been applied to the bioprotection of a variety of biologicals in vitro, including enzymes and other proteins, vaccines, bacteria and yeasts. As trehalose is impermeable to the cell membrane, a key issue is getting sufficient trehalose concentrations not only around, but also within cells for optimal bioprotection.
A range of techniques has been investigated for delivering trehalose into live cells for biopreservation. However, current methods that have been able to yield sufficient intracellular trehalose for cell preservation have either made use of hazardous materials (e.g. mutant bacterial toxins), or have lacked scalability (e.g. the use of microinjection).
The patented technology developed in Dr Chen’s group allows the efficient and scalable intracellular trehalose delivery without causing cell damage through the use of novel biocompatible and biodegradable biopolymers.
The £25,000 Imperial Innovations PoC funding will be used to demonstrate its generalisability for DMSO-free cryopreservation of a wide range of mammalian cells, and enable its future commercialisation in the areas of cell therapy and biopharmaceutical development.
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