The successful implementation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs)-based technologies requires the production of relevant numbers of well-characterized cells and their efficient long-term storage. In this study, cells were microencapsulated in alginate to develop an integrated bioprocess for expansion and cryopreservation of pluripotent hESCs. Different three-dimensional (3D) culture strategies were evaluated and compared, specifically, microencapsulation of hESCs as: i) single cells, ii) aggregates and iii) immobilized on microcarriers. In order to establish a scalable bioprocess, hESC-microcapsules were cultured in stirred tank bioreactors.The combination of microencapsulation and microcarrier technology resulted in a highly efficient protocol for the production and storage of pluripotent hESCs. This strategy ensured high expansion ratios (an approximately twenty-fold increase in cell concentration) and high cell recovery yields (>70%) after cryopreservation. When compared with non-encapsulated cells, cell survival post-thawing demonstrated a three-fold improvement without compromising hESC characteristics.Microencapsulation also improved the culture of hESC aggregates by protecting cells from hydrodynamic shear stress, controlling aggregate size and maintaining cell pluripotency for two weeks.This work establishes that microencapsulation technology may prove a powerful tool for integrating the expansion and cryopreservation of pluripotent hESCs.
The article is published online in PLoS ONE and is free to access.