After decades of research, scientists have successfully been able to turn primordial blood cells into mature erythrocyte (red blood cells) and other blood components in a lab. This is a massive step forward as this might allow for people with blood disease, like leukemia, an increased chance of survival because of the need to find a compatible bone marrow donor being removed.
Bone marrow is a material that is found in the internal cavities of different types of bones. There is red and yellow bone marrow which determines where it can be found and what is made from it. From red marrow we get RBCs, platelets and white blood cells; from yellow marrow we get fat cells, cartilage and bone components. When born, all marrow is red and slowly becomes yellow marrow over time. In cases of severe blood loss though, yellow marrow can be converted back into red marrow to replace the lost blood.
Leukemia is a blood cancer in which bone marrow starts to produce high levels of abnormal white blood cells (responsible for fighting infection). Problems associated with leukemia include bleeding, fatigue and increased susceptibility to infections. Along with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and blood transfusions, patients might need to have a bone marrow transplant to correct the faulty cells responsible for the underdeveloped WBCs. The matching associated with bone marrow transplants are more complex than the matching between blood types. They look for a match, or as close as possible, between the patients and donors human leukocyte antigen or HLA. This is a marker protein that your body uses to distinguish between cells that are yours and cells that aren’t. If there is too much of a difference then the body’s immune system will attack the blood to destroy the foreign body.
A group from the Boston Children’s Hospital were able to convert skin and other cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells that then become haematopoietic blood stems cells capable of become the many components of blood. Though they’re not identical to stem cells found in nature, they’re incredibly close and do the exact same thing. Cells have been converted back into iPS cells before but this is the first time that they have successfully differentiated them into cells capable of creating all of the components of blood; which is a massive step.
More work needs to be done on the process to make it more efficient. There are still some issues with the generation of abnormal cells as some with the potential to develop further into tumors. This is something that has been in the works for decades now and there were a few who thought that this wasn’t possible. Hopefully now, with this new technique, more will be willing to invest and research into that one applications leading to a potential combat for leukemia.