Scientists grow blood-producing stem cells outside the body

A team of University of Washington scientists working at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) has found a way to grow blood-producing stem cells in the laboratory -- opening the door to helping cancer patients overcome major side effects of treatment and creating greater possibilities for genetic cures of illness.

Blood stem cells are solely responsible for the ability to regrow the blood cell system after intense chemotherapy or irradiation.

One reason that it's important to be able to grow stem cells in a laboratory is because they are rare, and large numbers of stem cells must be transplanted in order for the transplant to be successful. Only one in every 100,000 bone marrow cells is a stem cell that can produce blood.

Until now, blood stem cells could not be multiplied outside the body. In fact, under the best known culture conditions, essentially all blood stem cells normally died off after one month outside of the body.

But by using a new growth hormone and optimizing cell culture conditions, UW scientists have actually generated large numbers of mouse blood stem cells in the laboratory and maintained them for up to four months.

The presence of the blood stem cells was proven by transplanting the cultured cells into lethally irradiated mice. The cultured stem cells were able to "rescue" the mice by providing a new blood cell system.

"It's now almost a year later, and these animals are walking around as healthy as they can possibly be. We can't find anything wrong with them," says Dr. Stephen Bartelmez, assistant professor of pathobiology at the UW School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and a principal investigator at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute. "The implications of this are huge."

This is the first time that blood-producing, or hematopoietic, stem cells have survived and reproduced successfully outside a body for any length of

Contact: Walter Neary
University of Washington

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