Clever use made of paradigm shift in cell research

20.01.2010 Clever use made of paradigm shift in cell research

Dr. Brigitte Angres and Dr. Helmut Wurst, founders and managing directors of Cellendes GmbH in Reutlingen, have developed an innovative synthetic hydrogel for cultivating cells. This enables better testing of new active substances, for example in the pharmaceutical industry, because it facilitates a more natural cell environment. This innovative hydrogel is set to be marketed worldwide from 2010 onwards.

Modern cell biology would be inconceivable without cell cultures. Several thousand cell lines – from humans and a good 150 animal species – are cultivated outside the original organism in the world's laboratories under controlled conditions and are supplied commercially. Yet growing cells on flat culture plates, as researchers have known for a few years, has one crucial disadvantage – the cells do not behave as they do in their natural environment. This is why scientists are now attempting to simulate the natural cell environment in the tissue medium or extracellular matrix using three-dimensional substrates. Cellendes GmbH, founded in July 2009, has utilized the paradigm shift from two-dimensional cell cultivation on culture plates to three-dimensional cultivation within a defined hydrogel.

Biologists Dr. Brigitte Angres and Dr. Helmut Wurst, the company's founders and managing directors, have developed an innovative synthetic hydrogel for three-dimensional applications that can be used by researchers to cultivate cells within a precisely defined matrix. The biomimetic gels from Cellendes GmbH have key advantages over other hydrogels already on the market. Conventional gels for three-dimensional cultivation are made in most cases from animal substrates such as collagen. The disadvantage of this is that the composition cannot be varied and any unwanted components are retained; undefined impurities may occur and distort the study results. Synthetic gels currently on the market do not offer the flexibility to incorporate bioactive substances such as adhesion peptides and selected proteins designed to control cell behaviour, as is possible with the technology from Cellendes.

Cellendes is closing the gap in both directions – the gels newly developed in Reutlingen are fully synthetic, but it is also possible to include bioactive substances. "Users obtain a precisely designed matrix from the defined components and can test the impact of particular substances on the cells in a three-dimensional environment," explains Angres. And, says Wurst, "production of the gel for each user is straightforward and doesn't require great experience or specific equipment – that was very important to us at the development stage."

Handling really couldn't be easier. Cellendes supplies two fluids – an activated polymer and a cross-linking agent that polymers use to link themselves together through a chemical reaction. Various biofactors can be bonded to the polymer prior to cross-linking. The hydrogel is ready in just a few minutes. In the transparent gel, the cells can be easily examined under a microscope and pigmented. Two of the three gels offered by Cellendes can be broken down again, enabling further work to be performed with and on the cells. "We are the first on the market to offer such a flexible system that is of equal interest for basic research in cell biology and for use in the pharmaceutical industry or regenerative medicine," say Angres and Wurst.

The two managing directors, who worked for many years in product development at California-based biotech company Clontech and also still employed by the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute (NMI) at the University of Tübingen, had been thinking of setting up their own company for some time. The two entrepreneurs are currently being funded by the EXIST research transfer programme. The "proper" launch will take place in July 2010, exactly one year after Cellendes GmbH was officially founded. In the meantime, talks with potential investors and distribution partners in Germany, the U.

S. and Japan are in the pipeline. Until then, the NMI offers the ideal setting. "The NMI is an excellent springboard to start up a company," explains Wurst, who is also very impressed by the promotion and assistance provided by BioRegio STERN Management GmbH. "BioRegio STERN is extremely helpful and has very proactive management that provides intensive support and expertise for entrepreneurs."

Hydrogels for cultivating cells before and after adding a growth medium (Photo:Cellendes GmbH)

Hydrogels for cultivating cells before and after adding a growth medium (Photo:Cellendes GmbH)