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Process Devised to Generate Stem Cells from Drop of Blood

Drop of blood

(Mattia Belletti/Flickr)

20 March 2014. Researchers at Singapore’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology developed a process for deriving adult stem cells from small samples of blood, making it easier for donors to collect and bank their own blood samples. The team led by the institute’s Jonathan Yuin-Han Loh and funded by Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) published its findings online yesterday in the journal Stem Cell Translational Medicine.

Human induced pluripotent stem cells are adult stem cells genetically reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells, and thus can be transformed into new tissue or organs. Loh, with colleagues from the U.S., U.K., and other Singapore institutions, were seeking a way to make it easier for individuals to collect their own blood for stem cell reprogramming than current invasive methods using bone marrow or skin samples.

The researchers first took blood samples from two donors with 2 milliliters (0.07 fluid ounces) provided for baseline measurements. With those samples, the team reprogrammed the blood cells into immune system T cells and other cells, using today’s standard technologies. As the researchers reduced the amount of blood in the samples, the use of standard purification techniques failed to isolate sufficient numbers of blood cells needed for reprogramming.

At quantitites of 10 microliters of blood, less than the amount of blood from a finger prick, the team changed the purification techniques, leaving out a method for isolating lymphocytes, but keeping a technique needing less water to break down the cells. Using this technique with 10 microliter blood samples from four of the five young adult donors, age 19 to 36, the researchers were able to culture enough cells for reprogramming into induced pluripotent stem cells.

The reprogrammed stem cells were able to be transformed in lab cultures into precursor cardiomyocytes or human heart muscle cells that were even rhythmically beating. The cardiomyocytes showed as well evidence of potential growth into tissue for specific areas of the heart, such as ventricular and atrial tissue. The researchers also injected the reprogrammed stem cells into immune-deficient mouse hosts, where the stem cell lines began transforming into embryonic skin, cartilage, and nerve cells.

The early results, while encouraging, were not uniform across all of the donated samples. Blood samples from one of the five donors did not reprogram into enough stem cells, suggesting there may be variations in the ability of small blood samples to be reprogrammed into stem cells.

Loh and colleagues believe their techniques can help expand the practice of collecting blood samples for reprogramming into stem cells for research, drug discovery, and cell therapy. The samples remained stable for 48 hours, and for up to 12 days in lab cultures. Making it easy to collect a blood sample from a finger prick at home, say the researchers, can increase the number and types of stem cells across more regions, ethnic groups, and genetic types.

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