Cell-based models used in drug discovery and testing are moving away from simple, immortalized cell lines towards systems that more accurately recapitulate an in vivo setting.

There is a drive to using primary cells (including patient-specific cells from biopsy samples) and three-dimensional structures such as microtissues, organoids and spheroids. Cells derived from a stock of iPSC can provide a renewable source of complex cell types and the possibility of exploring patient variation by using multiple donors.

However, if there is a “rule of thumb” here it is that the more physiologically relevant the cell type, the more fragile they are. For the cell developer, this translates into the question “how do I ship my valuable products to my customer?”

Our customer came to us with a knotty problem. They can generate cortical neurons derived from iPSC and sell these as undifferentiated precursor cells for their customers to differentiate and mature into plated neurons after weeks in culture. A major customer wanted to buy a lot of these cells but didn’t want the headache of doing this laborious maturation – “you do the cell culture, and we’ll buy the plated, fully mature neurons from you. Lots of them.”

The problem? They could ship the precursors in deep frozen vials, but the mature neurons can’t be frozen and fall apart if transported fresh.

Using our WellReady™ product, we encapsulated the fully mature neurons in 96-well plates then shipped them by courier truck the 250 miles between our sites then kept them at room temperature for a further day before driving them back up to Newcastle.

The first image in the series of photos below shows the non-stored, non-transported control cells, and the axonal connections between these healthy cells are clearly visible as you would expect. The second image in the series below shows what happens when you try to ship these cells without encapsulation – 60% of them are dead, and those that remain have lost all the inter-cell connections and are no longer functional neurons.

By contrast, the cells that were encapsulated in WellReady™ and stored at room temperature for three days and transported twice (+WellReady™) are identical to the cells that hadn’t left the comfort of their incubator – healthy and alive, with mini-networks of nerves still in place.

We then extended this study to 7 days of room temperature storage with identical results, so these mature, plated neurons can now be shipped to wherever a customers wants them, anywhere in the world.

Problem solved.