Until now, scientists have relied on embryos or complex techniques using skin cells to create stem cells. Now, a team from Cambridge University has managed to create them from the blood of a patient — which could make regenerative medicine a more real possibility than ever.
Stem cells can be tweaked to grow into any kind of human tissue, so for a long time they've looked set to have a profound impact on medical treatment. The only problem is that they're difficult to make and controversial to harvest from embryos.
The new research though, published in Stem Cells: Translational Medicine, took a patient's blood and used it to grow personalised stem cells. Then, the cells were used to grow new blood vessels. Dr Amer Rana, one of the researchers, explained to the BBC:
"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."
To create the stem cells, the scientists isolated what are known as late outgrowth endothelial progenitor cells in the blood. Those cells are zip around the blood stream and repair damage to walls of blood vessels. They're highly adaptive, which allowed the team to convert them into stem cells.
While the stem cells were used to grow viable blood vessels, though, some experts have been warning that caution is required. The idea of taking living human cells and essentially reprogramming them is a very new technology, which isn't that well understood. Before such techniques hit the big time, then, there's a lot of testing to be done to ensure the whole process is safe. [Stem Cells: Translational Medicine, BBC]