Successfully freezing and thawing fruits, vegetables and spices allows food to be moved around the world and helps to reduce food waste. Now the technology used in this process may help in freezing human stem cells used in newly developed cell-based therapies including cancer treatment, thanks to the initiative of a group of scientists from across Europe who were able to cooperate and achieve results after coming together in a COST network.
Technology and ideas used in the food industry could have a positive impact on research into cancer following research helped by a COST network. Experts from across Europe have realised that methods used to freeze and thaw plants, like spinach or rocket, while preserving their cells alive could be used on human stem cells to treat cancer, without the need to use potentially harmful substances.
The realisation sprang from COST Action ‘EP4Bio2Med’ – the European network for development of electroporation based technologies and treatments. Its aim was to increase pan-European understanding of electroporation – increasing permeability of cell membranes by exposing them to electrical fields. And that goal was successfully reached by one member, with many beneficial results.
Dr Dymek was studying for a PhD at Lund University in Sweden, but discovered that methods used by a group in Slovenia could be useful to her. With funding from COST, she visited the University of Ljubljana to look at mathematical modelling that helped continue with her research.
“Essentially, without the funding, I would not have been able to travel,” says Dr Dymek. “Visiting the research group at University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Electrical Engineering allowed me to meet very experienced scientists, who shared their knowledge with me. They helped me to look at the plant tissue, and the processes taking place in it, from a different perspective. I also saw a new laboratory, learned new techniques and explored a new city and its culture.”
Having built a theoretical model of a leaf structure thanks to her trip to Ljubljana, Dr Dymek’s understanding of electroporation increased. She could continue with her PhD project, and devise a method of freezing spinach or rocket leaves without killing them.
This has also helped her in work at Optifreeze, a company founded at Lund University, that uses an innovative method to freeze fruits and vegetables without losing their structure after the freezing and thawing process. Plus, scientists from Ljubljana from the Laboratory of Biocybernetics who worked with Dr Dymek realised that technology she uses in Optifreeze could help in their work on stem cells. They are now working with a Slovenian biotech company Educell on analysing how human stem cells can be frozen without using toxic cryoprotectants.
The results of her visit to Ljubljana continues to help Dr Dymek, whose network of contacts expanded thanks to COST’s funding.
“Now, when I have a scientific problem or I am looking for a collaboration, I can easily find experts in a specific field and direct the question to them,” she adds. “I learned many things during my COST trip, and I use this knowledge every day working at Optifreeze.”
“Applying for funding from COST is easy and straight forward, and there is not much paperwork. Gaining knowledge and experience, meeting new people, discovering new countries and cultures – there are no drawbacks to this project, only benefits!”