UK firm TriStem claimed last week that it has developed a 'body repair kit' by taking blood cells and turning them into different types of tissue. TriStem founder Ilham Abuljadayel told New Scientist magazine that she has managed to turn white blood cells into heart, nerve, bone, cartilage, smooth muscle, liver and pancreas cells. But these results, as yet unpublished, have been met with disbelief by other researchers: 'I would be extremely sceptical of these findings and would need more proof' said US stem cell scientist Evan Snyder.
Many researchers are hoping to use stem cells - the body's master cells - to grow different types of body tissues in the laboratory, to treat a range of different diseases. At the moment, the two main potential sources of these versatile cells are from adult tissues, or early embryos. But last week, TriStem unveiled a new technique for generating different types of cells from ordinary blood. The firm claims it can take half a litre of anyone's blood, extract the white blood cells and revert them to a 'stem-cell-like' state within hours. It says that it can then turn these cells into a range of different cells, and will soon publish its success in generating bone marrow stem cells using this technique.
Tim McCaffrey, a cardiovascular researcher at George Washington University in Washington DC, said at first he was 'extremely sceptical' of TriStem's claims. But when asked to evaluate the results he said: 'They did it in front of my eyes with my own blood' adding 'it's stunning'. TriStem will publish their bone marrow cell results in the January edition of Current Medical Research and Opinion. But it has yet to provide any proof to back up claims that other types of cell can be generated in this way.
The secret of their method is said to be an antibody protein that sticks to the outside of the blood cells and triggers the 'retrodifferentiation' process. Alexander Medvinsky, of the Institute of Stem Cell Research, suggests that this process may simply kill ordinary white blood cells, leaving only stem cells behind. But McCaffrey rejects this explanation, saying that 90-95 per cent of the cells survive the process. A clinical trial in a secret location is now apparently taking place, in which patients with aplastic anaemia (a severe lack of bone marrow) will be treated using blood cells from tissue-matched donors. The results of the trial should be in by the end of March, reports New Scientist.
Sources and References
UK firm claims major blood cell breakthrough
Blood could generate body repair kit
British firm plans human stem cell trial-magazine