Experts from the Stowers Institute for Medical Research have come up with a breakthrough research that reveals that blood-forming, adult stem cells can be expanded from human umbilical cord blood (hUCB). The researchers have identified that this development could make the cells available to more people. Moreover, this expansion can be beneficial for those who undergo adult stem cell treatments but lack appropriate available bone marrow match. This research is great news for people suffering from leukemia, blood disorders, immune system diseases, and other types of cancers.
As per the experts, life-saving bone marrow transplants are a common practice for decades, but they don’t work for everybody. Only 30 percent of patients find a donor match in their families. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 170,000 people in the US are expected to be diagnosed with a blood cancer during 2018.
Adult stem cells from umbilical cords are more likely to match more people. This is because there are fewer compatibility requirements than for transplanting bone marrow. However, adult patients need two cords’ worth of blood per treatment. Unfortunately, enough cord units aren’t available for everyone who needs the treatment. This study suggests that expanding the cord adult stem cells can potentially decrease the number of cords needed per treatment.
What does the study say?
The study was published in the journal Cell Research. The researchers pinpointed a protein, affecting multiple targets and pathways involved in the self-renewal of hematopoietic stem cell. The research demonstrates a broader approach than other studies. This is because it focuses on a single target or pathway in the process.
The respective protein under discussion is called Ythdf2. It identifies a particular type of modification on a group of mRNAs. These mRNAs encode key transcription factors for hematopoietic stem cell self-renewal. Plus, the protein also causes the decay of these mRNAs within cells.
The researchers knocked out Ythdf2 function in a mouse model or in hUCB cells. They, then, measured the following parameters,
- Increased expression of the transcription factors
- Expansion of hematopoietic stem cells
The hematopoietic stem cells are the major type of adult stem cells in hUCB. The researchers found that impairing Ythdf2 function did not change the types of subsequently produced cells. Moreover, it didn’t augment blood cell malignancies. Note that the knockdown treatment isn’t permanent. Thus, the function of the protein can be restored after transplantation.
Targeting Ythdf2 function using an RNA-based technique helped to avoid more persistent changes related to DNA. These changes may include mutations in epigenetic regulators. These kinds of genetic mutations lead to the re-genesis of leukemia or cancer.
How is the study helpful?
This research may also be a complementary approach to the haploidentical adult stem cell transplants. These kinds of transplants involve donors from a close but still mismatched family member. Usually, these patients need immune suppression treatment to suppress graft versus host disease.
Ythdf2 protein is present in different kinds of adult stem cells. Thus the researchers believed that this approach could potentially be applied to other types of adult stem cells. Moreover, the findings of the study represent a major advance in the field. It aims at significant improvement of the outcomes of thousands of children and adults who undergo umbilical cord blood transplantation every year.