The University of Minnesota has made a highly-touted new technology for “cryo-preserving” living biomaterials such as fish embryos available for licensing. Ultimately, the public institution is seeking a commercialization partner for the method hailed as a breakthrough for wildlife conservation and human health research.
The tech platform, invented by U of M Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering professor John Bischof, was introduced to the world last year with the publication of a study co-authored with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute providing the first-ever reproducible evidence for the successful cryopreservation of zebrafish embryos.
The results made news because they represented the first time a frozen fish embryo had survived to grow after being thawed out from a cryogenic state. Zebrafish are particularly valuable to health researchers because their genomes approximate those of humans closely enough to be used for modeling diseases in lab experiments.
The key to the breakthrough was Bischoff’s innovation of employing laser gold nanotechnology — a rapidly growing technological field being developed at the U for a number of cryopreservation applications.
Now, that same patent-pending technology is being offered for licensing by the U’s Office for Technology Commercialization as it looks to find potential buyers. Users would most likely include human health researchers and those seeking to preserve endangered aquatic species.
For the health researchers, the ability to cryopreserve zebrafish embryos would be valuable because it would make their studies on human diseases such as muscular dystrophy and melanoma easier to conduct and replicate — they wouldn’t have to work around the fishes’ spawning schedules or contend with “genetic drift” of subsequent generations.
And for wildlife preservations, the U platform could be a crucial tool: By freezing sperm, eggs and embryos, they can safeguard at-risk aquatic species and their genetic diversity, making it possible to bolster the genetic pool and therefore guarantee the health of wild populations years — or even centuries — later.
Other markets it could potentially address include the preservation of reptile and bird embryos; enhancement of existing methods to cryopreserve mammalian embryos, such as giant pandas and large cats; and the aquaculture industry, which could use the tech to become more efficient and cost-effective while easing pressure on wild populations.
Bischoff’s invention overcomes a previous roadblock in cryopreserving fish embryos: Due to their large size, traditional ways of thawing them out are too slow and result in the formation of ice crystals which damage them and prevent viability. The key innovation of the U technology addresses that problem with the use of gold nanoparticles, or cylindrical “nanorods,” which are injected into the embryo before freezing.
They essentially act as a “distributed network” of ultra-efficient heaters that generate very fast warming rates when illuminated with an infrared laser, thus avoiding the creation of ice crystals. The nanorods also have low toxicity levels.