Guest Column | July 24, 2023

6 Emerging Trends In Using Stem Cell Assays

By Aditi Shivarkar, insightSLICE

Microscope of cell, Embryonic stem cell

A stem cell assay is a laboratory technique used to evaluate and measure the properties and behavior of stem cells. The assay allows scientists to assess the self-renewal capacity, proliferation rate, differentiation potential, and other characteristics of stem cells.

Stem cells offer a unique capability to differentiate into specialized cell types and replace damaged or diseased tissues. The potential applications of stem cell-based therapies are vast, including treating cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, orthopedic injuries, and autoimmune conditions. For instance, in the field of cardiology, stem cell-based therapies are being explored for repairing damaged heart tissue after a heart attack. Stem cells can be differentiated into cardiomyocytes, which are the cells responsible for the heart's contraction. By introducing these cells into the damaged heart tissue, it is possible to regenerate functional cardiac muscle, improving heart function and patient outcomes. In the field of diabetes, for example, researchers are investigating the use of pancreatic beta cells derived from stem cells for insulin production. This approach aims to replace the beta cells that are destroyed in individuals with type 1 diabetes, potentially offering a long-term solution for managing the disease.

The assay typically involves culturing stem cells in controlled laboratory conditions and subjecting them to specific stimuli or conditions to induce differentiation or assess their response to external factors. Various methods and markers are employed to identify and quantify specific stem cell populations and their differentiated progeny.

Stem cell assays play a crucial role in both basic research and clinical applications. In research, they provide insights into the biology of stem cells and aid in the development of regenerative medicine therapies. They also help in assessing the safety and efficacy of potential stem cell-based treatments in preclinical and clinical trials. By understanding how stem cells respond to different conditions, scientists can optimize their protocols for therapeutic use and improve our understanding of stem cell biology as a whole. Let’s look at key trends in the use of stem cell assays globally, from our recent market research.

1. Increasing R&D Activities For Regenerative Medicine

Scientists and researchers are exploring the potential of stem cells in regenerative medicine, disease modeling, drug discovery, and toxicology testing. This has led to an increased demand for stem cell assays that can accurately evaluate the characteristics and behavior of stem cells.

For example, researchers are using stem cell assays to study the differentiation potential of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and their application in disease modeling. By subjecting iPSCs to specific differentiation protocols and utilizing stem cell assays, scientists can evaluate the effectiveness of iPSCs in generating disease-relevant cell types, such as neurons for studying neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

2. Increasing Adoption Of 3D Cell Culture Models

One key trend is the increasing adoption of three-dimensional (3D) cell culture models. Traditional two-dimensional cell culture systems have limitations in mimicking the complex cellular environment and tissue architecture found in the human body. 3D cell culture models provide a more physiologically relevant environment for studying stem cells’ behavior and their interactions with surrounding cells and extracellular matrix.

For example, researchers are utilizing 3D organoids derived from stem cells to create miniaturized models of organs, such as the liver, kidney, and brain. These organoids replicate the structure and function of the respective organs, allowing scientists to study disease mechanisms, drug responses, and toxicity in a more realistic and predictive manner. The adoption of 3D cell culture models in stem cell assays enhances the accuracy and translatability of research findings, making it a significant trend in the field.

3. Integration Of High-Throughput Screening (HTS)

HTS enables the screening of large compound libraries or experimental conditions in a rapid and automated manner. By combining HTS with stem cell assays, researchers can efficiently identify potential drug candidates, optimize differentiation protocols, and investigate stem cell behavior under various conditions.

For instance, HTS can be used to screen a vast number of chemical compounds or natural extracts for their ability to enhance the differentiation of stem cells into specific cell lineages. This approach accelerates the discovery of novel molecules or compounds that can promote tissue regeneration or have therapeutic potential.

4. Emphasis On Quality Control And Standardization

There is an increasing emphasis on quality control and standardization. As stem cell-based therapies progress toward clinical applications, ensuring the safety, efficacy, and reproducibility of stem cell populations becomes paramount. Standardized protocols, reference materials, and quality control measures are being developed to establish rigorous standards in stem cell assays.

For example, the International Stem Cell Initiative (ISCI) and the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) have provided guidelines and best practices for the derivation, maintenance, characterization, and differentiation of stem cells (view ISCI’s here and ISSCR’s here). These guidelines aim to promote consistency and comparability among different laboratories and research studies, facilitating the translation of stem cell research into clinical applications.

5. Consumables Are Being Used More Than Other Stem Cell Assay Product Types

The global stem cell assay market is segmented into instruments, consumables, and software on the basis of product type. Among these, the largest segment is the consumables category. The consumables category includes the various, reagents, assay kits, antibodies, and other materials that are essential for conducting stem cell assays. These consumables are used throughout the assay process, from the culture and maintenance of stem cells to the execution of specific assays and analysis of results.

There are several key industry trends in the consumables product segment of the global stem cell assay market. These include:

  • Increasing Demand for Serum-Free and Defined Culture Media: There is a growing trend toward adoption of serum-free and defined culture media in the stem cell assay market. Traditional cell culture media often contain serum, which can introduce variability and undefined factors into the culture system. Serum-free and defined culture media offer more controlled and reproducible conditions for stem cell culture, enhancing the reliability and standardization of stem cell assays.
  • Integration of Advanced Technologies in Assay Kits: Assay kits are an important category within the consumables segment. There is a growing trend of integrating advanced technologies into assay kits to enhance the sensitivity, accuracy, and efficiency of stem cell assays. These technologies may include fluorescence-based detection systems, multiplexing capabilities, and automation-friendly formats.
  • Focus on Scalability and Cost-Efficiency: With the increasing demand for stem cell-based therapies and larger-scale applications, there is a need for consumables that can support the expansion of stem cell populations in a cost-effective manner. This trend is driving the development of scalable culture systems and consumables that enable the efficient and economical expansion of stem cells.

6. Cell-Based Assays Are Being Used More Than Other Technology Types

On the basis of technology, the global stem cell assay market is segmented into cell-based assays, molecular assays, and others (e.g., high-throughput screening). Among these, the largest segment is cell-based assays. Cell-based assays involve measuring various cellular parameters such as viability, proliferation, differentiation, and functionality of stem cells.

There are several key industry trends specific to the cell-based assays technology segment of the market. Here are two of them:

  • Adoption of High-Content Screening Technologies: One key industry trend is the increasing adoption of high-content screening (HCS) technologies. HCS combines automated microscopy, image analysis, and data management to capture and analyze multiple parameters of cellular behavior in a high-throughput manner. This trend is driven by the need to obtain comprehensive and detailed information about stem cell morphology, proliferation, differentiation, and functionality.
  • Shift Toward 3D Cell-Based Assays: There is a noticeable shift toward the use of 3D cell-based assays in the stem cell assay market. Traditional 2D cell culture systems have limitations in recapitulating the complex cellular interactions and tissue architecture found in vivo. 3D cell-based assays offer a more physiologically relevant environment for stem cells, enabling the study of cell-cell interactions, cell-matrix interactions, and tissue-like structures.

About The Author:

Aditi Shivarkar is principal consultant at insightSLICE, a market intelligence and strategy consulting company. She has been a part of the research industry for 13 years. She joined insightSLICE in 2021, and she works with clients to design studies that generate the data needed to answer their strategic market analysis, segmentation, brand equity, and pricing questions. She works across various domains, including healthcare, industrial automation, consumer goods, IT, and telecom.