Robot factory set to transform stem cell manufacture

A consortium of European universities has been awarded an EU grant to build an automated factory to manufacture adult stem cells for use in the treatment of a range of conditions.

The EU’s Horizon 2020 programme has given $7m to the Autostem consortium, which is coordinated by the National University of Ireland in Galway and which includes Aston University in Birmingham, the Universita Degli Studi Di Genova, the Fraunhofer Institute in Aachen, the Tyndall Institute at the University College Cork, as well as a number of companies making scientific equipment.

The StromalCellFactory factory will isolate and purify adult stem cells from bone marrow before growing them in bioreactors. It will operate in a sterile cleanroom facility operated by an automated system.

Qasim Rafiq, academic lead for the project at Aston University, said: "Stem cells have the potential to treat currently unmet patient needs and provide therapies for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s.

"However, current manufacturing methods for adult stem cells are costly, time-consuming and labour-intensive, so will be unable to satisfy the expected patient demand.

"Our project will develop a scalable, automated robotic system for the growth of adult stem cells, allowing us significantly to reduce the costs associated with stem cell therapies and help improve quality of life for patients around the world."

There is currently a stem cell factory in Aachen University Hospital in northwest Germany.

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