Mass-Produced Stem Cells: A Gateway to Personalized Medicine

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Ronawk T-blocks are disrupting the industry by enabling the production of adult stem cells in large quantities.

Ronawk, a Kansas-based bioengineering firm founded by A.J. Mellott, PhD, and Heather Decker, revolutionized stem cell research with the T-block, an innovative hydrogel scaffold that enables the mass production of adult stem cells. The startup’s chief executive officer, Dr. Mellott, says that CELLINK’s renowned team of application scientists supported him from beginning to end, as he perfected his prototype on the BIO X™ all the way to manufacturing it in high throughputs on the Lumen X™, powered by Volumetric.
“The tissue block, or T-block, is a 3D scaffold that is expandable and modular to grow stem cells,” says Dr. Mellott.

Watch in their own words

The study of adult stem cells has increased exponentially because of recent technological innovations in the life sciences, especially within the field of bioprinting. The array of applications under consideration runs the gamut—from reversing baldness to managing diabetes to transplanting personalized bioprinted organoids. With the latter, researchers are envisioning culturing a patient’s own adult stem cells to create viable organoids that could be transplanted into the patient with no need for the long-term immunosuppressant drugs they would have taken with a donated organ.

“The goal is to efficiently expand a patient’s own stem cells to engineer organoids or grafts that could be used in life-saving surgeries,” says Dr. Mellott.

One of the obstacles that has stymied researchers is how difficult it is to locate adult stem cells from bone marrow, brain, muscle or fat tissues, not to mention trying to extract them in the quantities realistically needed for clinical use. As a result, many researchers have been working doggedly to find ways to generate adult stem cells in mass quantities with in vitro cell culturing.

Enter Ronawk’s T-block. The startup, which was spun off from labs at the University of Kansas Medical Center, used biocompatible hydrogels and a unique geometry to design the interlocking 3D cell culturing scaffolds. The T-block constructs can be seeded with adult stem cells, giving them the proper environment to proliferate outside the body in greater numbers. Researchers had also been unable to keep extracted adult stem cells viable for long periods of time. With their modular design, additional T-blocks can be added in the X, Y, Z axial directions indefinitely with no need for passaging, enabling cells to continue proliferating, migrating, secreting extracellular matrices and maturing into tissue.

“We have a lot of fun working with CELLINK,” says Dr. Mellott. “We’ve presented them with problems, and they’ve worked with us to fix them, like a collaboration.”

Dr. Mellott characterizes the relationship with CELLINK less like one of traditional customer support and more of a collaboration. While experimenting with prototypes on the BIO X, he says, the suggestion from the company’s application scientists to experiment with options from the wide array of interchangeable printheads and toolheads was invaluable. Then, he was introduced to the digital light processing (DLP) Lumen X bioprinter (the previous iteration of the Lumen X+™), which allowed for production on a much larger scale as well as more precision. Furthermore, after the Kansas lab customized a platform to accommodate the extra printing area needed for the T-blocks, it was the CELLINK team who devised a workaround for handling the bigger files.

“The way we manufactured our T-blocks was cumbersome,” says Decker. “CELLINK helped us come up with a 3-day method when it previously took us weeks, and we continue to use it today.”
According to Decker, Ronawk’s chief technical officer, CELLINK’s assistance helped significantly accelerate the production timeline. “We can now control the resolution and multiple aspects of the T-block that previously we had very little control over,” she says, crediting these workflow optimizations, among others, with shortening the cumbersome production process from several weeks to 3 days. But Paul Berning, head of global sales at CELLINK, insists that the relationship is symbiotic, “Ronawk also offered us valuable feedback on biomaterials, and we look forward to more collaborations.”
“We are making great strides in science and technology that will allow people to live better lives,” says Dr. Mellott.

Lumen X™ is a trademark of Volumetric. All rights reserved.

Further reading

See a video on how the system works in practice

Get the link to the full video below, or watch the abridged version on our Youtube channel.

BIO X6 - Demo

BIO X6 - Demo