Stem cell breakthrough could end shortage of vital blood cells

 

Patients undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplants may soon be treated with a vital blood-clotting agent derived from the stem cells of human embryos.

Scientists have produced blood platelets from human embryonic stem cells and have shown for the first time that these "donor-less" platelets can repair damaged tissues in laboratory mice.

People undergoing certain forms of medical treatment, such as cancer therapies or transplant surgery, often need transfusions of platelets in order to repair damaged tissues and blood vessels and to prevent uncontrolled bleeding. The scientists believe that the technique could result in unlimited quantities of platelets being produced on an industrial scale without the need for human blood donors.

Platelets play a key role in the complex process of blood clotting. Without them, damaged tissues would not heal properly and quickly, and there would be a risk of death from internal bleeding. Platelets derived from blood donations, however, cannot be frozen and have a short shelf life of between seven and 10 days. The constant demand for platelets can lead to shortages – which is why medical researchers are trying to devise ways of producing unlimited supplies from stem cells to replace conventional blood donors.

Scientists in the United States have not only produced platelets from human embryonic stem cells on a clinically useful scale, but have shown that they work when injected into mice, as they would do normally in the human body.

The researchers believe that platelets that are produced in this way could rapidly find their way into clinics, because they do not contain any genetic material, which largely eliminates the risk of introducing cancerous tumours into the recipient.

Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), the stem cell company behind the work, said the platelets looked and behaved just like ordinary ones derived from blood donations, including being activated by the natural clotting agent of the blood, thrombin. He said: "Amazingly, we show that they're even biconcave-shaped disks just like the real thing. Importantly, we demonstrated the platelets incorporated into thrombi, or blood clots, in living mice in a manner similar to that observed for normal blood platelets. These results represent an important step towards generating a potentially unlimited supply of functional platelets for transfusion."

The platelets were made from a line of stem cells derived from a spare IVF embryo. The stem cells were first coaxed to develop into specialised cells called megakaryocytes, which were then cultivated in the laboratory to make fully mature platelets. Dr Lanza said that an alternative method of making stem cells that does not involve using human embryos could be used to make platelets. Known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), the technique involves the genetic modification of a patient's skin cells to make embryonic-like stem cells.

Safety concerns over using such iPS-derived material could be overcome in the case of platelets because they would not pose a cancer risk, Dr Lanza suggested. "Since platelets contain no genetic material – and can be irradiated before use – they're ideal candidates for early clinical translation involving iPS cells," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea