Stem cells could replace bone-marrow transplants
Scientists have used cytokins – cell signalling molecules – to develop a stem cell therapy for treating blood diseases like leukaemia. Until now, animal products have been required for stem cells to turn into blood-cell producing cells in culture. These cells can be used instead of bone marrow transplants to treat leukaemia and other conditions.
The new technique will avoid the risk of infections and other complications posed by the animal products currently used to grow blood-cell producing cells in culture. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have the ability to turn into any other cell type and are considered a promising future cure for a number of diseases. They can be generated from a patient’s own cells – skin cells for example – meaning they will not be rejected when transplanted back into the patient.
The new breakthrough involves signalling molecules called cytokines, which the scientists have found can replace the need for animal cells and serum (a blood product) in the culture conditions. These currently rule out the use of resulting stem cells in human patients. The step-wise edition of cytokines to cells in a nutrient-rich culture and under low oxygen conditions was found to be enough to turn mouse embryonic stem cells into mouse bone-marrow cells. When transplanted into mice they successfully replaced faulty bone marrow and were not rejected by the mouse’s immune system.
Patients can currently wait years for a suitable donor to be found for bone-marrow transplant operations. Harnessing the regenerative power of a patient’s own cells could reduce waiting lists and remove the problems associated with rejection.