Two local researchers have been awarded a $370,000 National Institutes of Health grant to investigate new methods of storing stem cells by freezing them.

Ram Devireddy, an LSU associate professor and Louisiana Land & Exploration Co.-endowed mechanical engineering professor, and Pennington Biomedical Research Center Professor Jeff Gimble received the grant.

Their research looks at methods to help stem cell therapy products such as engineered bone implants survive the freezing process required to store and ship these products. The researchers are examining the proteins that help stem cells survive being frozen.

Stem cells have a relatively short shelf life, and there is little research that examines how freezing and storing processes affect the cells’ viability and functionality, according to the researchers.

“Our goal is to find new ways of storing stem cells such that upon unfreezing, the cells behave just like they did before we froze them,” Devireddy said in a news release.

Stem cell cryopreservation techniques have traditionally relied upon freezing-aid chemicals such as dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO, which is not approved for use in stem-cell-based therapy products for people.

Devireddy and Gimble’s new cryopreservation technique uses the polymer PVP, which humans can digest, as a freezing agent to improve stem cell viability after freezing.