Researchers at UW-Madison discover new ways to grow stem cells


MADISON – Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are turning back to the roots in nature to grow human cells that could someday be used on patients with neurological disorders.

UW-Madison professor of bio-medical engineering, Bill Murphy, took his approach to this research straight from plants. Seeing how plants use cells to feed and help organize themselves, Murphy got an idea.

Murphy told, “Rather than having to manufacture these devices using high-tech approaches, we could literally pick them off of a tree,” said Murphy, co-director of the UW-Madison Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center.

According to 

The strength, porosity and large surface area of plants could prove superior to making scaffolds using current methods, such as 3-D printing and injection molding, Murphy said.

“Plants have a huge capacity to grow cell populations,” he said. “They can deliver fluids very efficiently to their leaves … At the microscale, they’re very well organized.”

In addition, there are many plants to chose from. After Murphy’s inspirational gaze out the window, he and Fontana tested plants as scaffolds for stem cells using varieties they could easily obtain: parsley, spinach, jewelweed, water horsetail, summer lilac and, from the UW Arboretum, soft-stem bulrush.

For more on Murphy and other researchers at UW-Madison, visit

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