A patient-safe and effective method to produce stem cells using blood has been found, raising hope that in the future, these stem cells made from a patient’s own cells could be used to treat cardiovascular disease, suggests new research published in the journal Stem Cells: Translational Medicine.

The study was funded by Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council (MRC), and the British Heart Foundation (BHF), and summarizes a technique for scientists to obtain the cells they need to produce induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells (3) from a normal blood sample.

In earlier studies, scientists found it difficult to pinpoint an appropriate type of cell in the blood that is capable of modifying into a stem cell, and many times made iPS cells from tissues or skin, which can call for a biopsy or other surgical procedure.

A group of scientists from the University of Cambridge, led by Dr. Amer Rana, grew participants’ blood in the lab and separated “late outgrowth endothelial progenitor cells” (L-EPCs) to turn into iPS cells. The iPS cells can then be changed into any other cell in the body, including heart cells or blood vessel cells. These cells are used to study disease, and eventually, scientists want to grow them into tissue to fix the harm caused by circulatory and heart diseases.

Dr. Amer Rana explains:

“We are excited to have developed a practical and efficient method to create stem cells from a cell type found in blood. Tissue biopsies are undesirable, particularly for children and the elderly, whereas taking blood samples is routine for all patients. Researchers can freeze and store the blood cells, and then turn them into iPS cells at a later stage, rather than having to transform them as soon as they are sourced, as is the case for other cell types used previously. This will have tremendous practical value prolonging the ‘use by date’ of patient samples.”

The authors point out that iPS cells have good potential for the treatment and study of cardiovascular diseases. Because iPS cells are produced from the patient’s own body, they can be used to study diseases, and in the future, be able to fix harmed tissues without backlash from the body’s immune system.

Having the ability to make iPS cells using blood samples can make it easier for scientists to move this technology forward. However, the authors emphasize that there are still many kinks to work out before this method becomes feasible to treat patients.

Dr Paul Colville-Nash, regenerative medicine Programme Manager at the MRC, concludes:

“iPS cell technology offers an exciting new approach to building lab-based models of disease, which can be used to understand illness and test new drugs, as well as the possibility for cell replacement therapy in the longer term. Being able to produce iPS cells from an easy to obtain source such as blood should further support the rapid progress being made in this field and enhance the application of this technology to the fight against human disease.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald