Power in numbers

Patients undergoing stem cell transplants for blood cancers and other diseases today must endure highly toxic—sometimes lethal—rounds of chemotherapy and radiation to clear their bone marrow of diseased blood-forming stem cells, or hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). A further problem is that collecting sufficient numbers of donor HSCs for transplantation is challenging because they are very rare cells and difficult to culture. Now a team of scientists at Ludwig Stanford led by Hiro Nakauchi might have found a way around both these issues. In a July Nature paper, they and their colleagues in Japan reported a method of culturing mouse HSCs that prompts the stem cells to renew themselves hundreds or even thousands of times within just 28 days. The researchers accomplished this by altering the medium, growth stimulating factors and physical conditions of the culture. They then demonstrated that, with such large numbers of HSCs available for infusion, successful transplantations could be done in mice without first eliminating the recipients’ own HSCs. If the method works on human HSCs, it could dramatically expand the number of patients eligible for bone marrow transplantation and help to expand the use of umbilical cord blood HSCs for transplantation. It could also permit the use of a patient’s own genetically corrected stem cells in gene therapies to treat genetic diseases like sickle cell anemia.

This article appeared in the November 2019 issue of Ludwig Link. Click here to download a PDF (1 MB).


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