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Instilling new life into cells with hydrogels
Hydrogel-based approach allows for preservation of membrane functionalities

A research group led by Dr. Che-Ming Jack Hu of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at Academia Sinica in Taiwan has published an article describing an innovative approach of constructing hydrogels in cellular cytoplasm to preserve cellular features and functionalities.

Cell membranes are highly functional biological interfaces that are very difficult to study and manipulate. As cells lose viability, the loss of cytoskeletal support leads to cell membrane rupture and collapse.

Dr. Hu’s team developed a technique to build artificial cytoskeletons using synthetic hydrogels, which stabilise the cell membrane after cell death. Unlike conventional chemical-based cell fixation approaches that crosslink proteins and deprive them of biological activities, the hydrogel-based approach allows for preservation of membrane functionalities.

The intracellular hydrogelation technique worked so well that the authors showed a gelated antigen presenting cells remained capable of activating cytotoxic T cells even after three weeks of storage. The gelated antigen presenting cells were safely administered in mice and triggered antigen-specific T cell proliferation, presenting a potential approach for enhancing immunotherapies.

According to Dr. Jung-Chen Lin, a primary author of the paper, he is hopeful on the gelated cells applicability in biomedical research and is working with collaborators to study membrane protein dynamics and cell-cell contact signaling using the system.

Dr. Hu, who has been working extensively on biomimetic biomaterials, offers a sci-fi perspective to the work, “We are building ‘cyborg cells’ that contain prosthetic skeletons. The gelated cells retain most surface characteristics of live cells but are much more durable.” Dr. Hu envisions many materials engineering opportunities with the new cell-mimetic system.

The paper was published in Nature Communications.

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EDITORS' CHOICE  
COLUMNS  

APBN Editorial Calendar 2019
January:
Taiwan Medical tourism
February:
Marijuana as medicine — Legal marijuana will open up scientific research
March:
Driven by curiosity
April:
Career developments for researchers
May:
What's cracking — Antibodies in ostrich eggs
Editorial calendar is subjected to changes.
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