Success at World's First-Ever Automated Cell Processing of Human iPS Cells

Jun. 28, 2010

Success at World's First-Ever Automated Cell Processing of Human iPS Cells

Tokyo, June 28, 2010 — Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd., the Japanese National Center for Child Health and Development (NCCHD), and the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) announced today that they have succeeded at the world's first-ever automated cell processing of human iPS cells, which only experienced experts can process because they differentiate so easily.

iPS cells are pluripotent cells that have the ability to become a wide range of cells and organs, including nerves, cardiac muscle, livers, pancreas, and the like, that are created by introducing particular genes into somatic cells, such as human skin cells. It is hoped such cells will be of use to regenerative medicine, not only in understanding the causes of disease, but also in drug discovery and cellular transplantation therapy. Because they differentiate so easily, iPS cells are currently processed by experienced researchers who use microscopes to observe a cell's state and select only those cells that are in good condition, having taken great care to prevent them from differentiating. Developing a technology that can process such cells reliably in large volumes has become a pressing concern in the effort to use them in actual drug discovery, clinical therapies, and other such applications.

Kawasaki, NCCHD, and AIST have succeeded in processing iPS cells automatically by using the automated cell processing system developed by Kawasaki. The automated processing of iPS cells demands that a system reproduce the processing techniques of experienced researchers in order to continually process cells in reliable fashion. Under the project direction of Makoto Asashima, director of AIST's Research Center for Stem Cell Engineering, it was decided to pursue practical applications for iPS cells, toward which large-volume cell processing was a critical component. To achieve this, Kawasaki's robot and image processing technologies were put to use in its automated cell processing system to reproduce the iPS cell processing protocols established by the NCCHD's Department of Reproductive Biology. By automating the judgment of differentiated/undifferentiated that has always been made by experienced researchers, the system was able to pick up and reseed only undifferentiated cells. Not only was Kawasaki able to demonstrate the system's ability over a three-month period to automatically process cells continuously in a stable fashion, but NCCHD and AIST also confirmed through several tests that the processed cells were in fact undifferentiated iPS cells.

This development project has been ongoing since March 2009 as part of the R&D program “Development of Selection, Evaluation, and Manufacturing Technologies for iPS and Other Stem Cells" under Fundamental Technology Development for Promoting the Industrial Application of iPS Cells commissioned by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).
The project findings will be delivered at a presentation to be given alongside exhibition of the automated cell processing system at the International Bio Expo to be held between June 30th and July 2nd, 2010 at Tokyo Big Sight.