UW-Madison has ventured a step further into the mysteries of stem-cell research. In an article published Tuesday, Dan Kaufman, hematology fellow at the UW Medical School, announced he and a team of researchers have taken an undifferentiated stem cell and coaxed it into a specialized blood cell.
“These results show an effective and efficient way to derive blood cells from these early precursors,” Kaufman wrote.
Kaufman said creating the blood cell means a lot for transplant researchers and patients in the future.
Currently, blood transfusion supplies are chronically short, and bone marrow for transplants is scarce.
“The numbers I have show that about 25 to 30 percent of people who could benefit from that actually find a donor and get a transplant,” Kaufman told The Capital Times. “So down the road, this may be a way of providing an alternate source of cells.”
With this discovery, a virtually limitless number of blood cells can be cultivated from a stem-cell line. However, researchers warned this may take time.
“It doesn’t mean anything right now,” Kaufman said. “We hope that in a few years — I honestly think it’s going to be five years or more – that we can potentially derive blood cells to be used for transfusions, red blood cells, platelets or such, or for bone-marrow transplants.”
The discovery, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is important in establishing the potential for stem-cell research to cure diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to diabetes to paralysis.
The human embryonic stem cell, discovered in 1998 by UW developmental biologist James Thomson, is at the heart of recent hype about the future of biotechnology. The cells, taken from fertilized embryos less than a week old, are important because they have not yet specialized into one of the 220 different cell types.
The discovery, patented by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, means that with the right scientific manipulation, the cells can be transformed into any cell type.
And with President Bush’s Aug. 9 decision limiting federal funding to the 60-plus stem-cell lines currently in existence, UW will reap the benefits of this new research. UW holds the patents to five of these lines.
“If this technology is successful and there are products made from it, the university stands to receive small profits and royalties,” WARF spokesman Andrew Cohn said. “But that is years away.”
The cultivation of blood cells is only one type of body cell that could be specialized this way. If Thomson and other stem-cell scientists are right in their findings, heart tissue could be recreated to cure heart-attack victims and insulin could be created for diabetes patients.
“One of the objectives for decades in biology is an understanding of how we can start from a single cell to a complex organism with over 200 cell types,” said Tim Mulcahy, UW associate dean of biological sciences. “A whole new area of medicine is beginning to evolve: an area called regenerative medicine.”