Better Matchmaker for Adult Stem Cell Transplants

By David Prentice

Scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

Adult stem cell transplants are helping thousands of patients every year. Of the over 50,000 adult stem cell transplants per year, a little less than half use donor–“allogeneic”– adult stem cells, from bone marrow or umbilical cord blood (as opposed to the patient using his/her own adult stem cells).

In those cases, it is critical that a proper match be made. Without a good match, the transplanted donor cells may fail to engraft, or worse, may attack their new host, a condition called “graft versus host disease.”

Now scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have shown that growing blood-forming adult stem cells in the lab for about a week can overcome much of the problem of immune rejection for these transplants, according to a study published in the August issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell. They developed a strategy for growing both mouse and human adult stem cells in culture, greatly expanding the numbers of cells available for transplant. They also found that the lab-grown adult stem cells started to produce a specific immune system inhibitor on their cell membranes and this also improved transplant efficiency. Overall, they achieved a 40-fold increase in transplantation ability, using mice as a model. They hope to be able to achieve as least as good a result for human adult stem cells.

According to senior author Dr. Cheng Cheng Zhang:

“If donor human [adult stem cells] can be expanded in culture and engraft non-matched or low-matched patients without graft-versus-host disease, this strategy will possibly lead to an ultimate solution to problems in allogeneic transplantation.”

In other words, a short period of growth in the lab could mean no more problems in matching for donor adult stem cell transplants.

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