Applying the power of nanogradients to stem cell research

Founded in 2012 as a collaboration between Göteborg University and Chalmers University of Technology, Cline Scientific is an innovative life sciences company focusing on the use of nanoscale surface gradients to improve stem cell and cancer research.

Stem cell research plays a powerful role in life sciences research, whether it's as a tool for producing biological drugs, as part of a cell-based therapeutic, or as part of understanding the basis of cancer metastasis. Cline Scientific, led by Patrik Sundh, president, CEO and co-founder, is using nanoscale surface engineering to support stem cell research, through two main applications; stem cell differentiation and culture, and migration in cancer cell research.

Stem cell culture: Facing the differentiation challenge
Researchers have been able to culture stem cells for twenty years or more, and successfully allow them to differentiate into different cell types. However, these differentiated populations are often not homogenous, and there can be cells present, known as teratoma cells, that divide uncontrollably. The challenge in developing cell therapeutics is to be able to differentiate cells into just the required cell type, for example insulin-producing cells or cartilage cells.
"This heterogeneity means that it is hard to get approval for these cells as therapeutics, limiting their use to terminally ill patients and people with no other treatment choices," said Sundh.
When growing stem cells, even slight differences in the surfaces can create different functional cells. Cline Scientific has created nanogradients that help researchers find the optimum nanosurface for the stem cells to grow and differentiate. By growing stem cells on one of these nanogradients, locating the differentiated cell of choice, and analysing the surface at that precise spot, researchers can find the optimal growing surface for a specific cell.
"We can design the surfaces just as the researcher needs," says Sundh. "At the molecular level, stem cells can be sensitive to just a few molecules. Our approach allows the cells to select their preferred concentration and density."
Many biologic drugs are developed in a lab with one set of tools, then scaled up for clinical development and then manufacturing with different tools. Because stem cells are so sensitive to their environment, this can make the transition difficult to handle. Sundh believes that Cline Scientific can scale up the optimal surface, recreating it on a larger scale. This could ease the transfer between phases and to manufacturing, and help with regulatory discussions.

Migration in cancer stem cell research
As cancer science and medicine has advanced, oncologists are getting better and better at treating primary tumours. However, as Sundh explains, the same isn’t true once tumours have started to metastasise: "Few people die from their primary tumours. However, 90% or more of the cancer deaths are in people with metastatic disease. The challenge is that it is hard to tell when the cancer starts spreading, and to stop the process when it has begun."
In cooperation with a customer who was studying how tumour cells migrated from the primary to other parts of the body to create metastases, Cline Scientific created a gradient surface for the researchers to investigate if their cells migrate, and if so, how far and how fast. The researchers could also see what could inhibit the migration.
"At the moment this is a research tool, but depending on the outcomes it has potential as a diagnostic," said Sundh.

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