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Regenerative potential discovered for human blood stem cells

21 September 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1064

Embryonic haematopoietic stem cells (HCSs) have a much higher regenerative capacity than umbilical cord HSCs, scientists have discovered.

A team of scientists from the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh measured the regenerative potential of HSCs from early human embryos. They found that embryonic HSCs had the capacity to generate 200-500 times more new HSCs than those taken from the umbilical cord.

The regenerative potential of stem cells is their ability to expand and generate new cells, which is vital in the treatment of blood cancers and immune system diseases. Healthy blood stem cells are transplanted into the patient, which create new healthy blood and immune cells, in turn curing the patient by replacing the diseased cells.

HSCs are usually collected from donated umbilical cords or adult bone marrow. However, a consistent supply from these sources is an issue, resulting in study authors Professor Alexander Medvinsky and Dr Andrejs Ivanovs investigating the regenerative potential of stem cells from different sources.

In the study, published in Stem Cell Reports, the researchers injected embryonic or umbilical HSCs into mice. Five to nine months later, varying amounts of bone marrow cells from these mice – which would include new, human-derived HSCs – were transplanted into a second set of mice. By looking at how many human-derived cells were present in the second set of mice another five months later, the researchers were able to quantify the regenerative potential of the original HSCs.    

The research team hope that their study will help to develop methods to increase the regenerative potential of bone marrow or umbilical cord-derived HSCs, increasing the available supply of HSC's for transplants. However, to provide these insights, further research will be needed to determine how and why embryonic HSCs have such a huge regenerative capacity.

Super-potent blood stem cells discovered in human embryos
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