Tissues derived from embryonic stem (ES) cells could help to pacify the immune system and so prevent recipients from rejecting them, the UK National Stem Cell Network Science Meeting will hear today (11 April). Speaking at the conference in Edinburgh, Dr Paul Fairchild from the University of Oxford will tell delegates that although tissues derived from ES cells succumb to rejection, they have an inherent immune-privilege which, if exploited, could have far reaching implications for the treatment of conditions such as diabetes, heart attacks and Parkinson's.
The exciting potential of ES cells for use in regenerative medicine may only be realised by better understanding of how to manage the body's immune response to them. With funding from the Medical Research Council, Dr Fairchild and Dr Nathan Robertson are investigating whether tissues derived from ES cells will be rejected in the conventional manner or whether the recipients will not recognise them as foreign.
So far, their findings suggest that, while ES cells are fully susceptible to rejection, they do display some underlying immune privilege which, with better understanding, could be harnessed to promote the activity of regulatory T-cells to suppress activation of the immune system.
Dr Paul Fairchild, explains: "Our work provides hope that the immune system may be persuaded to accept tissues derived from ES cells more readily than has been the case for tissues and organs from conventional sources. It appears that ES cell-derived tissues contribute to their own acceptance by creating an environment conducive to T cell regulation, which may one day be harnessed therapeutically."
The Oxford team generated a panel of ES cell lines from strains of mice that differed from recipients by increasing levels of genetic disparity and used them as a source of tissues for transplantation. Their results show that while minor differences between the two strains provoke prompt rejection in the absence of immune suppression, ES cells do show an underlying tendency for immune privilege.
The next stage of the team's work is to explore further the molecular and cellular basis of this immune-privilege, whether it might be augmented therapeutically and whether unwanted viruses or tumours could exploit ES cell-derived tissues as a safe-haven where they can evade the normal immune response.
Image available on request
Caption: Tissues derived from ES cells (blue) which have been accepted by recipient mice by exploiting the capacity of regulatory T cells (green) to suppress the activity of otherwise aggressive cells (red).
Credit: Dr Nathan Robertson
Dr Paul Fairchild
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Notes to Editors
This research is being presented at the UK National Stem Cell Network Inaugural Science Meeting at the Edinburgh Conference Centre on 11 April 2008.
The conference is a showcase of the best and latest UK stem cell science across all stem cell disciplines.
The UK National Stem Cell Network acts as a network of the existing regional stem cell networks in the UK, to bring coordination and coherence to a range of national and regional activities in the field of stem cell research.
The UKNSCN secretariat receives financial support from four of the UK Research Councils:
* Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
* Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
* Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
* Medical Research Council (MRC)
The Network represents the UK stem cell research community and is run through an independent Steering Committee. Initially, the secretariat is operated by BBSRC on behalf of all the Government sponsors of stem cell research, including the Research Councils, the Department of Health and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.