Background: The availability of well-characterized human hepatocytes that can be frozen and thawed will be critical for cell therapy. We addressed whether human hepatocytes can recover after microencapsulated cryopreservation and investigated whether these cryopreserved microencapsulated hepatocytes can be used for clinical applications.
Methods: Adult hepatocytes of 18 separate donors were isolated with a two-step extracorporeal collagenase perfusion technique. After pre-incubation at 4 °C for 12–24 h in HepatoZYME-SFM, hepatocytes were microencapsulated using alginate–poly-l-lysine–alginate microcapsules. The microencapsulated hepatocytes were transferred to a complete medium containing 10% dimethyl sulphoxide. They were immediately placed into an isopropanol progressive freezing container at −80 °C overnight and immersed in liquid nitrogen the next day. During the post-thawing culture period, albumin secretion, urea synthesis, cell cycle, mRNA and protein levels, as well as the morphology and pathology structure of pre-incubation before microencapsulated cryopreservation (PMC) groups were analysed.
Results: Compared with the immediate cryopreservation (IC) groups, we found significant improvement in the mRNA and protein levels in the attached cells, and higher secretion of albumin and urea levels after thawing. In the attached cultured human cryopreserved/thawed hepatocytes from the PMC group, albumin production was not significantly different from those of the direct culture groups on days 2, 3 and 4. The preserved morphology in the PMC group compared with the IC group was obvious.
Conclusions: The results of the present study suggested recovery of the functional and morphological integrity of human hepatocytes after pre-incubation at 4 °C for 12–24 h before microencapsulated cryopreservation. These studies offer the possibility for clinical applications in pharmacotoxicology, bioartificial liver and cell therapy in humans.