BlueCube Bio: How do trees survive Minnesota winters?
This cell therapy startup has the potential to dramatically improve human health.
Allison Hubel thinks it was probably the month of February, the shortest month by days, but one that can feel like the longest for anyone living in Minnesota and the Midwest, longing for winter to end.
“I looked out my window and wondered, ‘How do trees survive Minnesota winters?’” says Hubel, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Biopreservation Core Resource at the University of Minnesota.
“And the answer is that they use combinations of molecules that they express that help stabilize them against the cold.”
Nearly a decade later, that discovery led Hubel to launch BlueCube Bio, a startup that creates cryogenic storage solutions for cell therapy companies.
Cell therapy—the infusion of live human cells into a patient to treat various diseases—has enormous potential to improve the health of humanity. Examples of cell therapies include bone marrow transplants to replace cells destroyed by chemotherapy and T cells engineered to target and kill cancer cells.
But a hurdle in the field is that cells tend not to live long once removed from a living donor. In the meantime, they must be preserved, then sent to a manufacturing facility to be processed into a therapy product.
“If we take cells out of your body and we try to ship them somewhere, they will only survive, even under really, really good conditions, for 12 to 18 hours. And if the cells don’t remain viable all along that supply chain, the therapies are not useful,” says Hubel.
BlueCube Bio has created a method that can potentially preserve cells for years.
A new way forward
For decades, cells have been commonly preserved using a solution of dimethyl sulfoxide. But dimethyl sulfoxide can be toxic to both the cells and the patients who receive them, with reactions ranging from nausea to cardiac arrest and seizures.
“Our solutions are associated with naturally occurring molecules that are generally regarded as safe, so that means the adverse reactions that patients experience should be alleviated,” says Hubel. “The other layer of this is we're concerned about creating products that are good for the environment, and these are naturally occurring molecules. They're nontoxic and they don't represent a risk to the people who are working with them and who could be exposed to them.”
In fact, BlueCube Bio’s process is the first-ever nontoxic cell preservation method, resulting in higher post-preservation yields, stronger cell function, and ultimately better long-term results.
BlueCube Bio’s process is the first-ever nontoxic cell preservation method, resulting in stronger cell function and ultimately better long-term results.