Activated charcoal composite biomaterial promotes human embryonic stem cell differentiation toward neuronal lineage

Eric Y.T. Chen, Yung Chen Wang, Alexander Mintz, Alan Richards, Chi Shuo Chen, David Lu, Thien Nguyen, Wei Chun Chin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Transplantation of biomaterial scaffolds encasing human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) has been proposed as a clinical therapy for various neurological lesions and disorders. In light of recent developments, artificially synthesized carbon-based biomaterials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene have demonstrated feasibility in supporting stem cell attachment and differentiation. However, the applicability is significantly hampered by evidence of nanotoxic effects on multiple cell types. Thus, an emergent drive for an innovative carbonaceous biomaterial calls for a safer platform with comparable advantageous characteristics. Here, we showed for the first time, a natural coal-based activated charcoal (AC) composite biosubstrate can support and promote neuronal differentiation in hESCs. The bio-friendly AC composite biomatrices resulted in more matured neuron-like cells. Both of axonal length and density were at least twice as long and abundant, respectively, when compared with control groups. A functional assay demonstrated that the derived neuron-like cells responded to depolarization-dependent synaptic recycling and may contain active synapses. In addition, the AC composite substrate can serve to concentrate growth factors and cell adhesion proteins, further encouraging attachment and hESC differentiation. Moreover, the AC composite biomaterial can potentially be economically manufactured as implantable three-dimensional bioscaffolds, facilitating the regeneration of damaged neural and other tissues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2006-2017
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biomedical Materials Research - Part A
Volume100 A
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • activated charcoal
  • coal
  • composite biomaterials
  • hESC differentiation
  • neuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biomaterials
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Metals and Alloys

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