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Changing the cryopreservation game

Jars of red cryopreservation media sit on a refrigerator shelf.

Xu Han and his team have developed a novel cryopreservation medium trademarked as C80EZ® that eliminates the need for liquid nitrogen and allows cells to be preserved long-term at much higher temperatures, leading to better samples for research materials, a longer shelf life for clinically transplantable cells and tissue and lower overall preservation costs. Photos by Amy Parris.

A company founded by an MU College of Engineering researcher and housed within the Missouri Innovation Center is completely reshaping the manner in which cells and tissue are preserved.

CryoCrate, LLC was founded by Xu Han, MU assistant research professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, in 2012. Thanks to funding from the National Institutes of Health, University of Missouri Fast-Track Program and the Coulter Translational Partnership Program, Han and his team have developed a novel cryopreservation medium trademarked as C80EZ® that eliminates the need for liquid hydrogen and allows cells to be preserved long-term at much higher temperatures, leading to better samples for research materials, a longer shelf life for clinically transplantable cells and tissue and lower overall preservation costs.

Wheeler, Loboa and Han pose in a large hallway.

CryoCrate CEO Tim Wheeler, MU Engineering Dean Elizabeth Loboa and CryoCrate founder Xu Han recently toured the company’s facility in the Missouri Innovation Center.

The reason? A new crystal structure. Current cryopreservation media forms hexagonal ice crystals, which are more likely to damage samples, and also requires use of animal or human serum or proteins in order to preserve the biomaterials, which can lead to sample contamination. C80EZ® forms nanoscale cubic crystals upon freezing, which are less harsh on the material, and is polymer based, not requiring any serum or protein.

Many current cryopreservation efforts require the use of liquid nitrogen or its vapor for storage, which necessitates temperatures of about -200 degrees Celsius. Processes of freezing to or thawing from such low temperatures involves multiple mechanisms that damage cells. Many tissues and cells, particularly corneas and primary neurons, simply cannot be efficiently preserved by traditional liquid nitrogen storage.  Laborious operations using spacious liquid nitrogen facilities also raise severe concerns in safety, maintenance and expense. Shipping using liquid nitrogen dewars also is extremely costly.

“As you can tell from the product name, easy (EZ) -80 degree Celsius storage in regular lab deep freezers works well, even for corneas and primary neurons. The temperature makes huge differences and the procedure is much simpler and safer” Han said, “these freezers only use electricity and most labs use them for storing chemicals”.

“For users that only trust liquid nitrogen storage, well…,” he added, “using C80EZ for liquid nitrogen storage, they won’t need serum. They also lose much fewer cells during shipping on cheap dry ice or accidental warming. These benefits are still outstanding.”

He emphasized “a giant team works behind this, and we have collaborators across the UM System and from a national lab and two government agencies,” thanking them for their contributions.

By developing this new medium and working to expand its viability to as many cells and tissues as possible, CryoCrate has positioned itself to be one of if not the best suppliers of cryopreservation solutions for both life science researchers and clinicians. The goal eventually is to provide proper cryopreservation capabilities for cells and tissues that currently cannot be stored over the medium- or long-term via current solutions, as well as to significantly lower cost and improve safety and efficacy for regular cryopreservation operations.

“We have already generated significant interest in the C80EZ brand,” CryoCrate Chief Executive Officer Tim Wheeler said. “It came as no surprise that providing a mechanism to cryopreserve challenging cells and tissues resonates well with life science researchers, especially when we are able to eliminate the need for liquid nitrogen.

“Cryopreservation of cells is a ubiquitous practice in life science research. There’s nobody in the industry who focuses solely on cryobiology as a business/research model. So nobody has really stood up to say they’re really going try to find out what are best practices in cryopreservation and advance the science forward. CryoCrate is well positioned to fill a key role in the life science industry.”