The preservation of living cells for transport and storage has become increasingly important as cell based treatments and living products have been developed for medical care. To treat a patient using living cells that can assist in wound repair or synthesize important chemicals in the body has tremendous medical potential; but this potential cannot be realised unless living cells can be stored and transported so they can get to the patient.
Our research explores a new technique for preserving living cells in a dried state. If cells can be stabilised in room temperature glasses, then can be easily stored and shipped, and then rehydrated for use at their point of need. We have dried and stored many types of cells including sperm, fibroblasts and hepatocytes, but there is a lot of research necessary to extend the lives of the dried cells and to extend this technology to many new and important cell types.
Convective drying uses the flow of dried gas to remove water from the cells. Our work mostly focuses on this type of drying. It is a complex process because cells that are dried go through many possible phase transitions. By controlling the drying rates and by adding sugars to the cells we try to dry them into stable states; but experiments and models are continuously being developed and improved to create more uniform and controlled drying, so we can determine how best to keep the cells alive.