synthetic biology

Newly Formulated Cell Media Will Change the Way We Study Cancer

cell culture media bioprint bioprinter

The first synthetic cell culture medium was formulated 60 years ago by an American physician named Harry Eagle. As a pathologist, Dr. Eagle needed a way to keep cells alive longer in a laboratory setting in order to study their growth and behavior. His formula, better known at EMEM (Eagle's minimal essential medium), is composed of a mixture of sugars, vitamins, salts, and amino acids and as its name implies, is the bare minimum of nutrients needed in order to keep cells alive ex-vivo.

Since its creation, Eagle’s medium has become an essential consumable in labs worldwide where it is used by researchers to study animal cells. However, the formulation hasn’t changed much since making its debut in 1959 and recently scientists have begun to wonder if feeding cells the bare minimum of nutrients is skewing the results they are obtaining in lab.

Thinking of EMEM as Gatorade (which it essentially is), you can imagine what would happen if you tried to subsist on a diet of Gatorade alone. Your body wouldn’t behave normally under such harsh conditions so why do we expect your cells to be any different?

In 2012, a researcher by the name of Saverio Tardito set out to create a more relevant cell medium.

“The vast majority of biomedical researchers use cell culture media that were not designed to reproduce the physiological cellular environment but were formulated to enable the continued culture of cells with minimal amounts of nutrients and serum”.

Improving the metabolic fidelity of cancer models with a physiological cell culture medium, Science Advances

His final concoction, called Plasmax, is a mixture of approximately 60 nutrients and metabolites found in the human blood. In their paper, published in Science Advances, Tardito and his colleagues at Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute compared Plasmax with traditional cell culture media and found that cells cultured in Plasmax behaved in a more physiological manner.

By studying Plasmax in conjunction with cancer cells, Tardito and his team concluded that their newly formulated medium can improve the degree to which in-vitro models behave as they would in-vivo and ultimately provide better models for cancer research.

As we enter the renaissance of tissue engineering, we are deepening our understanding of the complex organisms that make up the human body. In order to develop novel drugs, better study disease, and regenerate tissue, it is imperative that we develop more relevant models in the lab that mimic the geometry, environment and diet that cells exist on in the body.

Read the full article here.

Self Healing with Synthetic Biology

Today, we wanted to provide some context to spark a discussion on using living organisms as supplements in structures to make them self-healing. There is a piece on self-healing concrete that was harnessing calcium carbonate precipitating bacteria. This could have tremendous applications for repairing roadways and buildings, among other things.

Self healing concrete Allevi

It led us to start thinking about how we can perhaps have other similar applications that could harness the combined powers of 3D printing and synthetic biology in order to make structures that could heal themselves.

Talking to two other MD-PhD students over lunch generated a few thoughts that we wanted to share with you. One was about the use of coral implants to heal bone. This is already in the works! There was talk of introducing organisms that would start growing when exposed to air and could be visualized to highlight micro-cracks in places where structural integrity is important. How can we use similar techniques for diagnostics in humans?

These thoughts raise some interesting talking points: 1) How would the living organisms sustain themselves within these non-living structure? 2) Could they grow out of control? 3) What organisms are appropriate for such applications - what are the ethical dilemmas of using higher organisms, such as jellyfish which are known to have plasticity, in such work? How will the increased proliferation of such organisms impact the balance of our surrounding ecosystem?

There are many other issues surrounding these theories of self-healing and we’d love to hear from you!