Stem cells massage

A research team from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) invented a specific nanotechnology layer for the proliferation and differentiation of neural stem cells (NSCs) in vitro. Compared with traditional methods, the team’s novel matrix can substantially reduce the risk of carcinogenesis or inflammation in stem cell therapy. This pioneering invention won the team the Gold Medal with Congratulations of Jury at the 46th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva.

Professor Ken Yung (right) and Dr Jeffery Huang (left) jointly invent the award-winning medical device for safe growth of neural stem cells using nanotechnology. Dr Huang is holding a piece of device.

Once damaged, certain kinds of cells in the human body are unable to regenerate, but stem cells have the remarkable ability to develop into many different cell types, tissues and organs. Stem cell therapy is a treatment that uses stem cells to cultivate new and normal cells or tissues in vitro, which are then transplanted back to people to restore physiological function by replacing damaged or dead cells. It is becoming a viable and potent remedial treatment for many incurable diseases.

One of the keys to successful stem cell therapy is the cultivation of desired cells. Conventional stem cell culturing techniques in artificial conditions require a large number of additional growth factors in a culture medium. High concentrations of polypeptide growth factors may stimulate the growth of abnormal cancer cells and therefore increase the risk of developing tumours after transplantation.


“Massaging” stem cells

Instead of relying on growth factors or other biochemicals to cultivate cells, the new medical device invented by the HKBU research team, jointly led by HKBU Department of Biology Professor Ken Yung and Department of Physics Associate Professor Dr Jeffery Huang, found a novel way of using a physical process to induce stem cell differentiation. Dr Jeffery Huang describes the mechanism as stem cells resting on a “massage mattress”. He explains, “Our invention is a silica plate coated with a nanostructure layer. The thickness of the layer is only 500 nanometers yet there are trillions of vertical zigzag structures on the surface. When the NSCs come into physiological contact with the matrix we developed, the ‘physical massage’ which resembles the Chinese medicine acupuncture technique causes the cells to differentiate into the desired functional cells.”

The novel matrix enables the cultivation of NSCs without the addition of organic compounds in the process, thereby reducing the carcinogenic risk greatly. “Our new invention could provide a safe platform for research into stem cell therapies. I hope it gains approvals from regulatory bodies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to boost the development of regenerative medicine,” says Professor Ken Yung. This invention offers hope of a cure for incurable diseases such as neurodegenerative diseases, chronic systemic diseases and degenerative joint diseases.

Patent applications to the US and China have been filed. The team has established a start-up company Mat-A-Cell Limited with the aim of providing an advanced device to research institutions and companies that develop stem cell therapy.


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Department of Biology 
Department of Physics