Stem cells from blood a ‘huge’ milestone
Blood drawn with a simple needle stick can be coaxed into producing stem cells that may have the ability to form any type of tissue in the body, three independent papers report in the July 2 Cell Stem Cell. The new technique will allow scientists to tap a large, readily available source of personalized stem cells.
Because taking blood is safe, fast and efficient compared to current stem cell harvesting methods, some of which include biopsies and pretreatments with drugs, researchers hope that blood-derived stem cells could one day be used to study and treat diseases — though major safety hurdles remain.
The findings “represent a huge and important progression in the field,” stem cell biologist Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan and the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, Calif., writes in a commentary appearing in the same issue of the journal.
Three research groups used similar methods to prod certain immune cells in human blood to become induced pluripotent stem cells. Because they are reprogrammed adult cells, these stem cells share many of the same regenerative abilities as true embryonic stem cells but may not have as much versatility in the kinds of mature cells they can become. But induced pluripotent cells are harvested from adults and so don’t face the same ethical mires posed by embryo-derived stem cells. And as techniques for manipulating induced pluripotent cells improve, some researchers think they may be just as useful.