Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Lab-Grown Blood Stem Cells Produced At Last

Lab-Grown Blood Stem Cells Produced At Last

This research may answer one of the most longstanding questions in regenerative and reproductive medicine: How do stem cells constantly replenish their supply? While we have been able to stimulate these stem cells into becoming blood cells in the past, this has only been on levels too small to be used in a medical setting.

Stem Pharm is one of the newest Madison-based startups to join the field. The mix was tested on mice, which then went on to do exactly what they had hoped in producing the new cells and platelets.

Just previous year, Elefanty and colleagues were able to reproduce the first part of the program, training embryonic stem cells to go from the mesoderm stage to haemogenic endothelium using growth factors added to the medium bathing the cells.

For nearly 20 years, scientists have been searching for a way to use human embryonic stem cells to make blood-forming stem cells. "[Stem Pharm's] efforts extend from a lot of the initial discoveries that were made in my lab and throughout campus". "It could lead to new ways to cure leukemia and myeloproliferative neoplasms, and may help us correct genetic defects that cause blood diseases like sickle-cell anemia". He was one of the researchers behind the embryonic stem cell discovery almost two decades ago and contributed to another landmark achievement in 2007, when Thomson and colleagues became the first researchers to derive human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). While the introduction of these foreign genes raises concerns as to the long-term safety of such cells, the scientists nevertheless achieved what has till now been impossible: repopulating the blood supply of a mouse. Thomson is the co-founder of Cellular Dynamics International, which seeks to further research and development of iPSCs. For almost 20 years, researchers have been trying to find a way to turn stem cells – which can create any kind of cell – into blood artificially. These cells were later used to generate multiple human cell types, such as neurons and heart cells - yet blood- forming stem cells remained elusive.

The cells generated from pluripotent stem cells are a combination of blood stem cells and other cells referred to as blood progenitor cells.

Postdoctoral researcher Dr Ryohichi Sugimura who works at the Daley Lab in Boston Children's Hospital in the U.S., said: "This step opens up an opportunity to take cells from patients with genetic blood disorders, use gene editing to correct their genetic defect and make functional blood cells", according to leading Journal Nature. They then added genetic regulatory factors to push the tissue toward a blood-forming state.

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Dr Ryohichi Sugimura, a postdoctoral fellow at the Daley Lab in Boston Children's Hospital in the USA, said: "This step opens up an opportunity to take cells from patients with genetic blood disorders, use gene editing to correct their genetic defect and make functional blood cells".

According to his bio page on the school's website, Daley's goals are to "define fundamental principles of how stem cells contribute to tissue regeneration and fix and to improve drug and transplantation therapies for patients with malignant and genetic bone marrow disease".

"We're now able to model human blood function in so-called 'humanized mice, '" says Daley. "This is a major step forward for our ability to investigate genetic blood disease". These reprogrammed cells were grown and multiplied in co-culture with the engineered vascular niche. Twelve weeks later, the iPS cells had transformed into progenitor cells capable of making the range of cells found in human blood, including immune cells.

Both teams relied on genes introduced by viruses to train the cells.

Whether mice or humans, developing embryos proceed through a precisely choreographed set of stages, cued by specific signals, to form different tissues. "We think the difference is the vascular niche", said contributing author Dr. Jason Butler, an assistant professor of regenerative medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

"For many years, people have figured out parts of this recipe, but they've never quite gotten there", says Mick Bhatia, a stem-cell researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, who was not involved with either study.

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