NASA Spinoff

NASA Bioreactors Advance Disease Treatments

Adult stem cells are found in some types of body tissue. These cells are multipotent, meaning they can differentiate into a specific range of specialized cells. This makes them appealing possibilities for treating diseases—the stem cells differentiate into healthy replacements for sick or damaged cells. Blood stem cells, for example, can transform into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets; these cells could provide a potential treatment for blood diseases like sickle cell anemia.

One of the richest sources of adult stem cells is bone marrow.

“There are about 70 different conditions and diseases where bone marrow stem cells have been used to regenerate tissue or treat disease,” says Donnie Rudd, Regenetech’s chief scientist and director of intellectual property. Stem cells can be harvested from a patient’s bone marrow through a procedure called bone marrow apheresis—a process that like any medical procedure carries some level of risk. The problem with alternative methods of adult stem cell harvest is getting enough of the cells to have therapeutic value, which is where Regenetech’s Intrifuge cellXpansion technology comes to bear.

alt“We can take a sample of peripheral blood from a patient’s arm, separate the stem cells, put that into our improved NASA bioreactor, and then multiply the cells to a therapeutic level without all the trauma of bone marrow apheresis,” says Rudd.

Regenetech’s Intrifuge rotating wall bioreactor cradles a soup can-sized, rotating chamber that is used to expand, or multiply, harvested stem cells. The cell sample, contained in a growth fluid, is placed in the rotating chamber equipped with a membrane for oxygenation and gas exchange. As the chamber rotates, the cells are suspended in a constant state of falling—similar to an object in space orbit. This condition is enabled by a rotating inner wall that reduces shear from the nutrient fluid. In this simulated weightlessness, the cells do not get damaged and die from bouncing off the sides of the chamber. They multiply rapidly (50–200 times in size in as few as 6 days) into healthy populations, providing a quicker and cheaper source of stem cells for therapy or medical research. Regenetech’s cellXpansion process is being tested for further enhancement by a NASA-developed electromagnetic coil that surrounds the canister and which NASA developed to stimulate nerve cell growth. The coil, also patented by the NASA bioreactor development team and licensed by Regenetech, produces time varying electromagnetic conditions.

Regenetech started producing revenue only 5 years after its founding, and since acquiring the original NASA licenses, it has developed over 300 of its own patents and patent applications and has licensed out its technologies on a global scale. The company generates its revenue through research partnerships and licensing its patents to stem cell researchers in pursuit of treatments for everything from heart disease to diabetes to liver cirrhosis. It is currently engaged in sponsored research agreements with major universities to develop stem cell therapy for type 1 diabetes, study blood stem cells, and create stem cell veterinary orthopedic treatments using the company’s Intrifuge cellXpansion technology.

Through an agreement with NASA, Regenetech is also able to offer significant help to researchers pursuing treatments of rare diseases that affect less than 200,000 people in the United States and thus do not offer enough return on drug development investment. NASA allows the company to charge as little as $1,000 to $10,000 to license its NASA-developed technologies to researchers of such rare diseases.

“Our relationship with NASA has allowed us to get this technology out into the field for those diseases that otherwise might never be treated,” says Rudd.

Intrifuge™ and cellXpansion™ are trademarks of Regenetech Inc.