Dried cells, tissues could solve biological materials storage, transport problems

BLACKSBURG, VA March 2, 2001 -- If human tissue could remain viable after being dried, stored, and rehydrated, then life-saving blood products, organs, pharmaceuticals, and sensors could be transported and used virtually anywhere. Now research by Virginia Tech scientists has shown enough promise to land a multi-million grant from the Department of Defense (DoD).

The DoD has awarded Malcolm Potts, professor of biochemistry and director of the Virginia Tech Center for Genomics (VIGEN), a grant for research on biomimetic cell and tissue stasis. The study involves the genetic engineering of human cells to achieve long-term stabilization in the air-dried state and will apply principles of functional genomics and bioinformatics derived from VIGEN's work on extremophile microorganisms currently supported through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Extremophiles survive extreme conditions of heat, cold, moisture, radiation, salinity, alkalinity, and acidity. Potts and Richard Helm, of the Fralin Biotechnology Center at Virginia Tech, have been studying the cyanobacterium, Nostoc commune, which has the capacity to survive in the dry state for hundreds of years and, upon rewetting, to rapidly recover respiration, photosynthesis, and nitrogen fixation abilities. Nostoc produces a unique biopolymer that protects the cells from heat, desiccation, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Potts and Helm have isolated genes involved in these responses for transfer to sensitive cells.

They have dried mouse cells and, most recently, human kidney cells for as long as eight days. The cells are air dried at ambient room temperature. Cell division resumed when the cells were rehydrated.

"This technology could be important to the storage of stem cells, red blood cells, platelets, organs, tissues, and biosensor materials," says Potts. "Storage of such materials presently requires refrigeration, which is a tremendous load for the transpo

Contact: Richard Helm
Virginia Tech

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