Scientists have taken a step towards being able to create customise human stem cells capable of forming blood that will be safe for use in patients.
Nature on Wednesday reported advances that could not only give scientists a window on what went wrong in such blood cancers as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, but also improve the treatment of those cancers, which affected some 1.2 million US citizens.
In theory, only one stem cell is capable of creating much of a human being's immune system, and the complex slurry of cells that coursed through a person's arteries, veins and organs.
While blood-making stem cells have been commonly used in medicine since the 1950s, the technique remained rather crude.
Patients with blood cancers who have undergone powerful radiation and chemotherapy treatments to kill their cancer cells, often need a bone-marrow transplant to rebuild their white blood cells, which are destroyed in the treatment.
The blood-making stem cells residing in a donor's bone marrow and in umbilical cord blood that is sometimes harvested after a baby's birth are called ''haematopoietic,'' and can be life-saving.
But those stem cells can bear the distinctive immune system signatures of the donor and provoke an attack if the transplant recipient's body registered the cells as foreign.
Nature reported two experiments, one with mice, the other transplanting human stem cells into mouse bone marrow.
According to the researchers the techniques could potentially be used to produce all types of blood cells.
"This step opens up an opportunity to take cells from patients with genetic blood disorders, use gene editing to correct their genetic defect, and make functional blood cells," said Ryohichi Sugimura, a doctor at Boston Children's
Hospital and lead author of one of the studies, AFP reported.
He added, if proven safe, the proof-of-concept methods could also lead to a "limitless supply of blood" by using cells from universal donors.