Stem Cell Advance May Further Disease Research

Uses for newly engineered white blood cells could include drug testing, researchers say

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TUESDAY, Aug. 11, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- A new technique that transforms embryonic and adult stem cells into six types of mature white blood cells could produce blood cells with specific defects for use by researchers studying the development and treatment of disease.

The method, devised by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers, could also be used to grow specific types of immune cells to target specific infections or tumors, or to test the safety of new drugs, they said.

The researchers exposed two types of stem cells to a variety of compounds and eventually found a "recipe" that caused the stem cells to turn into different types of adult cells. Their study appears in the Aug. 10 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

"While we now can make almost all types of blood cells from embryonic and adult pluripotent stem cells, the next major challenge is to produce blood stem cells (called hematopoetic stem cells) that might be used in a bone marrow transplant," study leader Igor Slukvin, an assistant professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine, said in a university news release.

Bone marrow transplants can save the lives of patients with blood cancer, but more than one-third of patients can't find a well-matched bone marrow donor. These patients are at risk for graft-versus-host disease, a sometimes fatal attack on the patient by the transferred immune system. Using blood-forming stem cells created from a patient's own stem cells should eliminate bone marrow compatibility problems, Slukvin said.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.

SOURCE: University of Wisconsin-Madison, news release, Aug. 10, 2009

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