//     April 5, 2022

Lab grown cells or meat? Tell me more...

We have come a long way since American embryologist Ross Granville Harrison developed the first techniques for cultivating living cells in vitro back in 19071. Since then, we have learned a lot from many experiments and scientist that layed out the foundation for cultivating cells in vitro and understanding key concepts associated with behavior of cells. One very interesting case (that can also be read in the ref below) is regarding Nobel-prize winner Alexis Carrel. In his early work with chick embryo heart, Dr Carrel postulated that cells could grow indefinitely if cultivated in the right conditions (this particular cell line was cultivated for amazing 34 years, continually). However, later work done by other scientists including Leonard Hayflick states that, the regular aging mechanisms of a cell will allow it to only divide between 40-60 times before entering what we now call senescence which is a state in which cells no longer divide and then initiate cellular breakdown processes known as programmed cell death2 (several hypothesis remain to explain Carrel’s work, including accidental seeding of new cells or transformation). However, there are cell types that can overcome such growth limits such as pluripotent stem cells and cancer cells and can be grown virtually indefinitely. The most famous case for this is the HeLa cell line, which has been around since 1951 and is still used today (more on this link - https://www.immunology.org/hela-cells-1951).

In a very simplified version of what cultivating cells in the lab means, we can say that the same way cells in the living organism is autonomous but require blood and oxygen to survive, the lab grown cells face the same restrictions but instead of blood, they are fed with a liquid medium that carry all the nutrients (several media are available for different cell types) and researchers need to change that media every once in a while (daily sometimes) in what is still a very manual process.

Text Box: Fig 1: Researcher changing media. Cells are attached to the botton of the plastic plate and are not visible to the naked eye (Source https://images.app.goo.gl/ngFJg4HVCDMTTAkA9)

There are many applications for cultivating cells in vitro. The main ones are: running experiments and diagnostic assays, producing pharmaceuticals and vaccines and, most recently, developing therapies and cultivated meat. The first two suggestions are accomplished in relatively small scale (think thousands to millions of cells/batch). However, as we move towards the latter ones, we begin to think of billions to trillions of cells/batch. Just think that in a human heart you find about 20m heart cells/gram of tissue3. If you want 100g beef, you would be looking into something like 2b cells/piece. Now multiply that by how many 100g beefs do you eat per month, and you will get what a regular single client would consume in a month! Definitely, this is a LOT of cells. The same goes to realize the promise of regenerative medicine and creating organs in the lab.

This why there is still room for many technologies to be developed that help us cultivate these cells at industrial scale and be able to take on important challenges for our society (health and food). LizarBio is directly involved on this by developing and using media that are negligible cost4 to cultivate the cells used in our process to generate curative therapies for patients with incurable diseases. We understand this is an important step towards the fulfillment of the benefits of cellular therapies in the world.

Refs:

  1. Jedrzejczak-Silicka, M. New Insights into Cell Culture Technology. (2017) doi:10.5772/66905.
  2. Hayflick, Leonard. "The limited in vitro lifetime of human diploid cell strains." Experimental Cell Research 37 (1965): 614–36.
  3. Laflamme, M. A. & Murry, C. E. Heart regeneration. Nature 473, 326–35 (2011).
  4. Kuo, H.-H. et al. Negligible-Cost and Weekend-Free Chemically Defined Human iPSC Culture. Stem Cell Rep 14, 256–270 (2020).