Production and administration of therapeutic mesenchymal stem/stromal cell (MSC) spheroids primed in 3-D cultures under xeno-free conditions

Joni H. Ylostalo, Nikolay Bazhanov, Arezoo Mohammadipoor, Thomas J. Bartosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) hold great promise in bioengineering and regenerative medicine. MSCs can be isolated from multiple adult tissues via their strong adherence to tissue culture plastic and then further expanded in vitro, most commonly using fetal bovine serum (FBS). Since FBS can cause MSCs to become immunogenic, its presence in MSC cultures limits both clinical and experimental applications of the cells. Therefore, studies employing chemically defined xeno-free (XF) media for MSC cultures are extremely valuable. Many beneficial effects of MSCs have been attributed to their ability to regulate inflammation and immunity, mainly through secretion of immunomodulatory factors such as tumor necrosis factor-stimulated gene 6 (TSG6) and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). However, MSCs require activation to produce these factors and since the effect of MSCs is often transient, great interest has emerged to discover ways of pre-activating the cells prior to their use, thus eliminating the lag time for activation in vivo. Here we present protocols to efficiently activate or prime MSCs in three-dimensional (3D) cultures under chemically defined XF conditions and to administer these pre-activated MSCs in vivo. Specifically, we first describe methods to generate spherical MSC micro-tissues or 'spheroids' in hanging drops using XF medium and demonstrate how the spheres and conditioned medium (CM) can be harvested for various applications. Second, we describe gene expression screens and in vitro functional assays to rapidly assess the level of MSC activation in spheroids, emphasizing the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer potential of the cells. Third, we describe a novel method to inject intact MSC spheroids into the mouse peritoneal cavity for in vivo efficacy testing. Overall, the protocols herein overcome major challenges of obtaining pre-activated MSCs under chemically defined XF conditions and provide a flexible system to administer MSC spheroids for therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere55126
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number121
StatePublished - Mar 18 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D culture
  • Anti-cancer
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Cell transplantation
  • Developmental biology
  • Immunomodulation
  • Issue 121
  • Mesenchymal stem cells
  • Peritoneum
  • Spheroids
  • Stem cell therapy
  • Xeno-free

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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