Scientists – funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Wellcome Trust – have today published a patient-friendly and efficient way to make stem cells out of blood, increasing the hope that scientists could one day use stem cells made from patients' own cells to treat cardiovascular disease (1).
The study, in the journal Stem Cells: Translational Medicine (2), outlines a way for scientists to get the cells they need to make induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells (3) from a routine blood sample. Previously scientists have struggled to find an appropriate type of cell in the blood that can be turned into a stem cell, and often make iPS cells from skin or other tissues, which can require a surgical procedure, like a biopsy.
Dr Amer Rana and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge grew patients' blood in the lab and isolated what are known as 'late outgrowth endothelial progenitor cells' (L-EPCs) to turn into iPS cells. The iPS cells can then be turned into any other cell in the body, including blood vessel cells or heart cells – using different cocktails of chemicals. Scientists use these cells to study disease, and ultimately hope to grow them into tissue to repair the damage caused by heart and circulatory diseases.
Dr Amer Rana, of the University of Cambridge, said of the research:
"We are excited to have developed a practical and efficient method to create stem cells from a cell type found in blood. Tissue biopsies are undesirable – particularly for children and the elderly – whereas taking blood samples is routine for all patients.
"Researchers can freeze and store the blood cells, and then turn them into iPS cells at a later stage, rather than having to transform them as soon as they are sourced, as is the case for other cell types used previously. This will have tremendous practical value – prolonging the 'use by date' of patient samples."
Shannon Amoils, Research Advisor at the BHF, said:
"iPS cells offer great potential – both for the study and potentially the future treatment of cardiovascular diseases. As iPS cells are made from the patient's own tissue, they can be used to study diseases and hopefully one day to repair damaged tissue without being attacked by the body's immune system.
"Being able to efficiently produce iPS cells using cells from a blood sample will make it easier for researchers to push this technology forward. But there are still many hurdles to overcome before this kind of technique could be used to treat patients."
Dr Paul Colville-Nash, regenerative medicine Programme Manager at the MRC, said:
"IPS cell technology offers an exciting new approach to building lab-based models of disease, which can be used to understand illness and test new drugs, as well as the possibility for cell replacement therapy in the longer term. Being able to produce iPS cells from an easy to obtain source such as blood should further support the rapid progress being made in this field and enhance the application of this technology to the fight against human disease."
The BHF launched its Mending Broken Hearts Appeal to support more research like this that could lead to new treatments to regenerate heart and blood vessel tissue lost after a heart attack. For more information about the BHF's Mending Broken Hearts Appeal visit bhf.org.uk/findthecure
For more information please call the BHF press office on 020 7554 0164 or 07764 290 381 (out of hours) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
1. Cardiovascular disease kills 180,000 people in the UK each year – Coronary Heart disease statistics 2012, BHF.
2. Paper published in Stem Cells: Translational Medicine. DOI 10.5966/sctm.2012-0093
3. Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are made by re-programming adult cells so that they have the potential to become any cell in the body.
For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk
University of Cambridge: The University of Cambridge's mission is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.
Cambridge's reputation for excellence is known internationally and reflects the scholastic achievements of its academics and students, as well as the world-class original research carried out by its staff. Some of the most significant scientific breakthroughs occurred at the University, including the splitting of the atom, invention of the jet engine and the discoveries of stem cells, plate tectonics, pulsars and the structure of DNA. From Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, the University has nurtured some of history's greatest minds and has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other UK institution with over 80 laureates.
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