September 7, 2018

Learning how the human body makes blood cells could lead to an array of off-the-shelf products for treating cancer and genetic diseases. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health have used human stem cells to make blood-forming cells and demonstrated that they can function as the earliest cells from which various immune cells arise.

“It is critical to identify how nature makes blood cells and apply this knowledge as a tool to make blood cells in a culture dish,” said Igor Slukvin, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and researcher at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. “These findings are important because we can now apply known pathways to improve production of pluripotent stem cells for cancer therapies.”

During embryonic development, blood cells emerge from vessels at several sites inside and outside the embryo. But the cells with the particular ability to become the type of stem cells that can produce blood cells are found only in the lining of the arteries. Using a chemical process in combination with a protein, the researchers produced an arterial type of cell that could be manipulated to create adult-type blood cells and open the way for treatments for blood cancers and other serious conditions.

Dr. Slukvin’s important research holds promise for developing an unlimited supply of blood cells for use in cancer and genetic disease therapies. Unlocking the pathway by which blood cells are created is a significant step toward longer, healthier lives for people around the world.

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