There is a hope that stem cell technology could lead to treatment for certain conditions, such as Parkinson`s, by using the cultivated cells to replace diseased or defective ones.
Paul de Sousa, of Edinburgh University`s Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, said: "This development could greatly enhance automated production of embryonic stem cells, which would improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of stem cell manufacturing."
Researchers developed the new material by screening hundreds of potential compounds for their ability to support stem cell growth. From a shortlist of four, one has been found to be effective and researchers say the remaining three show similar potential.
By allowing the effective production of stem cells without the risk of contamination, the material is expected to benefit research and drug screening programmes that call for large numbers of cells.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications. The gels are being developed under licence by technology company Ilika.