A Package for the Transport of Living Cells
Specialised companies with couriers, cars and airplanes are used to transport transplant organs. The time in transit must be minimal and transport is expensive. You might think that it would be easier and cheaper to transport live cells. This has always been done at minus 196 degrees centigrade in liquid nitrogen. The transport is cumbersome, dangerous, and expensive and the outcome is variable. There ought to be a better way of doing this. The dream would be to send cells by airmail directly from the manufacturer to the end-user, perhaps a drug company, a surgeon, an academic research laboratory or a centralized stem cell storage bank. But living cells cannot be encapsulated like a drug, sealed in a blister pack and pushed into a fast mail envelope. They need air, a stable pH, isotonicity to maintain fluid homeostasis and prevent cell dehydration, and a narrow temperature range. Furthermore life is dynamic and the cells need an environment that not only cushions the cells from collision insults and infection, but allows interaction to accommodate the changing needs of the living cells. How could you make the dream real? How could you ensure that the air-mailed cells remain alive, sterile and viable during transit?
Phoenix Therapeutics, a small start-up company in South Africa, have a global patent which they think can make this happen. The package consists of an outer bag made from an aluminum foil / inner bubble wrap laminate. The air in the bubbles leaks and acts as a lung for the living cells within a smaller inner bag or capsule. This inner bag retains moisture, even water vapour, but allows gas exchange across the bag's membrane. The cells are adsorbed into a biodegradable, biocompatible alginate nano-scaffold or sponge to give a hydrogel. This allows the cells to breathe and there is no collision damage to the cells as would happen if they were sloshing about in liquid medium. The sterile medium stabilizes pH and isotonicity. The flat, round scaffold is protected within a perfect-fit, sterile plastic petri dish and the petri dish is taped closed and transported within the inner bag. Everything is assembled and sterilized using gamma irradiation before you add your sterile stem cells aseptically to the inner package, which is then sealed, placed back into the outer envelope, which is sealed and posted.
The inner package is a small survival capsule which interacts with the larger padded and insulated laminate bag. On arrival the cells are easily and quickly recovered by digesting the scaffold without damaging the cells, or the stem cell impregnated scaffold can be placed directly onto an open wound and covered with a bandage. The treatment is immediate, in real time, at the bedside. This makes treatment more affordable. The transport cost for this small miracle is less than 1% of what it would cost to use liquid nitrogen. The package is extremely light. Phoenix believes this device will simplify distribution of stem cells and broaden clinical applications. For those companies which manufacture stem cells, this package will enable distribution of their product to point-of-care or need in an inexpensive, robust and immediate fashion.
The invention is protected by a Patent Pending (PCT Application Number PCT ZA2013/000019). Phoenix Therapeutics c.c. 2000/008195/23 welcomes approaches for license agreements, joint ventures or investment opportunities. Interested companies can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to be able to send stem cells to anywhere in the world using this package. We will inform you of the viability and number of cells that we send and you can check the number and viability of the stem cells in the package when you receive it.