The focus sessions, posters, plenary sessions, and innovation showcases spanned a wide array of topics, but a common theme was that a more nuanced understanding of cell biology has created an appropriate demand for more detailed and relevant data and models. Just a few years ago, a researcher who could describe a spontaneously contracting cell could confidently state that he had developed a mature cardiomyocyte, a fibroblast that had been induced to express low levels of nestin had been transdifferentiated into a neuron, mesenchymal stem cells from various tissue sources were used interchangeably without rationale, and a fast-growing cell was equated with one that was “happy” and therapeutically potent. Today, these assumptions seem quaint and outdated.
Today, researchers are considering a much richer and more complex picture. One element of this is an increased awareness of how complex biological systems really are, and how we may be accidentally introducing variation that can cause weird, unreproducible, or non-relevant/untranslatable results. After, our presentation at the Friday morning Innovation showcase, an attendee asked whether we had explored the effects of oxygen tension on cells cultured on our cell-derived matrices. I knew where he was headed with the question and responded that we haven’t done any work looking at hypoxic culture conditions. The questioner correctly pointed out that what I was referring to as hypoxia, is actually physiologic culture conditions. His question was indicative of scientists becoming more discerning. The field is beginning to take exception with long held assumptions about stem cells and cell culture and in many cases even questioning standard methods and definitions.
We have been able to watch this evolution from our booth in the exhibitor hall at ISSCR over the last several years. When we first started attending 2013, many people had to be convinced that cell-matrix interactions were really important or didn’t believe that the cells cared about anything more than a little bit of collagen or fibronectin. The prevailing attitude was that if cells could attach, the job of the matrix was complete. In the years that followed, as stem cell scientists became more interested in matrices, as evidenced by the impact factor of Matrix Biology doubling in a two-year span, we began to get questions about specific signals the cells may be receiving. Scientists came to our booth asking questions about the stiffness of the substrate, the availability of RGD binding sites, and whether or not collagen 6 was present in our matrix. This year, there was a remarkable shift in the questions that were being asked. Instead of being asked about which signals were present, people asked superb questions about what could be missing in CELLvo™ Matrix. It was nearly universally acknowledged that cells respond to the signals they don’t receive as strongly as to those they do receive, and that there is a complex interplay of physical, structural, and soluble and insoluble biochemical cues regulating cell behavior.
At StemBioSys, we care about helping researchers do work that matters in order to catalyze progress in stem cell biology, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine. That’s why we manufacture cell-derived matrices that recreate the stem/progenitor cell niche in a dish for our customers, and why we isolate and expand all our cells on CELLvo™ Matrix in order to maintain native phenotypes for our customers.