Canadian researchers at McMaster University have successfully turned skin into blood by bypassing the embryonic, stem-cell state. Mick Bhatia and colleagues at the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine created blood progenitor cells that were then turned into all three blood cell types – white, red, and platelets.
Bhatia’s team created adult blood cells by bypassing the stem cell stage. Researchers hope that this blood made from direct conversion will limit the risk of tumor formation, one of the potential complications of current technology when blood cells are made from embryonic stem cells. The discovery was published in the science journal Nature.
Why it’s important
If clinical trials are successful in the future, people needing blood for surgery, cancer treatment or treatment for other blood disorders like anemia could receive blood made from their own skin – an immediate match, no donor required.
To date, all research has been done in the lab. Researchers are ecstatic but cautious. The blood has yet to undergo safety tests before it can be used in clinical trials in human subjects. There is a question about whether epigenetic modifications could be different for blood cells produced by this direct conversion technique compared to blood created naturally in the body.
Research is being funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Stem Cell Network and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. Bhatia’s team hope to have clinical trials underway by 2012.