The challenge with transporting live cells for stem cell therapies on a plane is two-fold. The cells need to be constantly agitated so that they don’t clump together and lose their medical properties. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t allow packages with running electronics on air-planes – so a standard device driven by motors is not an option for transport, researchers said. The team at the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego built a device inspired by a mechanical clock, which is spring-driven and can house and agitate tubes of stem cells during shipping without use of electronics.
The device is powered by a series of constant torque springs. Each spring can drive the device for a little more than 12 hours. The device can be modified to house as many springs as needed. The springs drive a gearbox that in turn rotates the vials where the stem cells are stored via a timing belt. The device rotates eight times per minute. The students developed a working prototype, but some fine tuning remains to reduce system friction. “This device has the potential to revolutionize the cell therapy industry,” said Dr Noelia Kunzevitzky who sponsored the project along with Dr Jeffrey Goldberg, professor and director of research at the UC San Diego Shiley Eye Center.
“The ability to ship stem cells will allow production to enter into a mass production phase rather than a local laboratory setting. “This could then drive down prices for cell therapies, making them more readily available for treatment of diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, for example,” said Kunzevitzky.