Photo/IllutrationScientists used commercially available liquid glue to culture difficult-to-proliferate stem cells. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Cheap liquid glue commonly found in stationery shops and convenience stores is a perfectly acceptable alternative to a pricey fluid normally used to culture stem cells for the treatment of leukemia patients, researchers say.

Scientists from the University of Tokyo and Stanford University in the United States, published their findings in the British scientific journal Nature on May 30.

They reported being able to get mouse cells to proliferate in large numbers, which is difficult to do even with expensive solutions, using a substance from liquid adhesives found on store shelves.

One expert likened the development to finding “Columbus's egg,” given that it could lead to a breakthrough in the way leukemia and other disorders are treated.

Hematopoietic stem cells, which turn into leukocytes and red blood cells, are difficult to proliferate even when immersed in a culturing fluid priced at tens of thousands of yen for just 500 milliliters.

For that reason, those suffering from leukemia typically seek bone marrow transplantation or receive cord blood from donors.

Satoshi Yamazaki, a specially appointed associate professor of hematology at the University of Tokyo, and his colleagues exhaustively tested components of conventional culture solutions and other substances to find a trailblazing way to proliferate the stem cells.

When they cultivated the cells in polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), the team found that the difficult-to-grow cells proliferated several hundred-fold. Transplanting the cultured cells into mice allowed the scientists to confirm that the cells can develop into leukocytes and other cells.

PVA is the major component of laundry starch and liquid glue. Yamazaki used a fluid adhesive bought at a convenience store and discovered that hematopoietic stem cells can also proliferate in the commercially available glue.

Yukio Nakamura, head of the Cell Engineering Division of the Riken research institute and a Riken BRC Cell Bank project member who co-authored the academic paper with Yamazaki and the other researchers, said he was “so astonished” that he could not believe in the finding initially.

“Every scientist would feel as if the scales fell from his or her eyes,” said Nakamura, referring to the discovery.

If the new method safely allows hematopoietic stem cells to proliferate in large quantities, cell shortages associated with cord blood transplantation could be eased. It would also lessen the burden on bone marrow donors.

Yamazaki noted that other kinds of stem cell can probably also be cultured with the technique.

“Our discovery may greatly contribute to regenerative medicine and basic research,” he added.

For more information on the Nature article, please see (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1244-x).