Many researchers are now finding that cell therapy is the way to treat various diseases and injuries. They have faced challenges of low rate cell survival and uncontrolled injected stem cell differentiation, which the use of hydrogels can now potentially overcome.

Hydrogels such as the chemically defined peptide hydrogels provided by Manchester BIOGEL offer chemically defined products that meet cell needs in a reproducible, cost-effective format. They come ready to use in 2D or 3D cell cultures for bioprinting, drug discovery and tissue regeneration—this type of hydrogel benefits cell therapy.

Cell therapy explained

Our human bodies contain over 200 different cell types, each tasked with a specific function to keep us healthy, yet life often gets in the way. Ageing, injury and disease affect how these cells behave, leaving them damaged and unable to function as nature intended. The use of cell therapy enables the introduction of viable new cells as replacements for the old, diseased or injured cells for therapeutic purposes.

Applications for cell therapy

Perhaps the most widely known is cell therapy for bone marrow transplants. Bone marrow transplants are often the most effective way to treat hematologic conditions and blood cancers. It is transplanting bone marrow that contains blood stem cells that replenish the blood and immune system of the patient receiving them. This successful use of cell therapy has encouraged researchers to look for other ways to use cell therapy to treat other conditions in human patients.

Cell therapy can improve weakened immune systems and neurological disorders, offer broader cancer treatment, improve autoimmune and infectious diseases, and rebuild damaged joint cartilage and spinal cord injury repairs.

Cell therapy is effective when stem cells can firstly be modified by gene therapy for the mutation causing the disease to be corrected. Once corrected, patients can receive the cells to repopulate diseased body areas. Success is achieved by combining gene and cell therapy to develop therapies that allow more effective treatment for some forms of lymphoma and leukaemia, as well as blood disorders and severe combined immunodeficiencies.

Hydrogel use in cell therapy

In some cases, a body can reject the cells transplanted. The body’s immune system will attack the implanted cells if they are not fully biocompatible. It is also possible that the new cells will attack existing cells, which is why biocompatibility is the key to success. A fully compatible hydrogel creates an environment that supports transplanted cells, so they overcome compatibility issues by enabling in vivo cell function without causing detrimental effects on the body.

Hydrogels can control molecular and cellular attachments with structural and functional integrity, creating a fully supportive environment for supporting transplanted cells. Cells can then replace or restore the tissue function lost. Hydrogels are also used as delivery vehicles for therapeutic genes that enhance or direct the transplanted cell functions.

The vital role peptide hydrogels play in cell therapy

A fully synthetic ready-to-use peptide hydrogel can be tuned to be fully biologically formulated and thus relevant to meet cell needs. Biocompatible peptide hydrogels and shear-thinning are suitable for injection by application during shear stress and self-healing quickly after shear removal. This means peptide hydrogels can deliver biological cells and molecules during the injection.

One last word on the subject is the important note that peptide hydrogels are entirely synthetic, making them cost-effective and easily reproducible. They show a lack of immunogenicity and are non-animal derived matrices. The use of animals and animal products for treatments and testing is becoming increasingly frowned upon, and the UK Government is supporting the drive to replace and reduce the use of animals in medicine, product development and testing. Therefore, a viable and fully functioning alternative like hydrogels for cell therapy will likely be developed even more fully in the future.

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