Stem cell breakthrough could end shortage of vital blood cells
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent and i. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; four times highly commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigations into the tobacco industry. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Wednesday 12 January 2011
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.
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 4 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
Amber Peat: Body found in search for missing 13-year-old who ran away after argument with her parents
California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
Sepp Blatter resigns: FBI are investigating outgoing Fifa president, claims report
Alton Towers crash: Four guests seriously injured as Smiler ride carriages collide
Charles Kennedy dead: A guy once asked the Lib Dem leader who his favourite Muppet was and his letter response was wonderful
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers
£24000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing, UK based I...
Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: Whats the opportunity? A pro-act...
Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: Whats the opportunity? The small...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...