Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) have been created from a routine blood sample by UK researchers, marking an improvement over existing experimental methods that require more invasive tissue biopsies. If the technique is shown to be safe and effective, it could one day be used to obtain a patient's own stem cells to treat a range of diseases.
Dr Amer Rana, a senior author on the study from the University of Cambridge, said: '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'.
The researchers isolated a group of cells called outgrowth endothelial progenitor cells from patient blood samples that were grown in the lab. These progenitor cells were then turned into iPS cells.
Using blood samples has a further advantage as they can be frozen and then used to produce stem cells at a later date. Other sources of adult stem cells previously identified, such as skin, need to be transformed into stem cells as soon as they are collected. 'This will have tremendous practical value – prolonging the "use by date" of patient samples', said Dr Rana.
The research is at an early stage, however. 'The next stage obviously is to say, "OK if we can do all this, let's actually make some clinical grade cells", we can then move this technology into the clinic for the first time', explained Dr Rana.
Other stem cell researchers have welcomed the study results. Dr Paul Colville-Nash, programme manager for regenerative medicine at the Medical Research Council, said: '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'.
Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine bioprocessing at University College London, said this was 'beautiful work' from the lab in Cambridge. However, he drew attention to issues that remain in research into iPS cells saying that 'iPS cells are still very new, we need far more experience to totally reprogram a cell in a way we know to be safe'.