Researchers from McMaster's Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, Canada, have found the ways of turning human skin cells into precursors of blood cells. Reported in the November issue of Nature, the discovery means that soon patients in need of blood for transfusions will be able to get it produced from their own skin cells. The beginning of clinical trials is scheduled for 2012.
The research builds on the recent years' discovery that skin cells of the humans can be reactivated into the pluripotent stem cells and converted into any cell types afterwards. However, the authors of the study have gone even farther and demonstrated that skin cells could be turned into blood cell progenitors directly, bypassing the stage of their activation to the pluripotent stem cell state. To prove that the mechanism works for persons of different age, it was successfully reproduced on cells of old and young people. The mechanism may well work for forming other cell types from the skin, and the scientists are going to try this as well.
The breakthrough finding is expected to overcome the problem of scarcity of bone marrow transplant donors for people with blood diseases, cancer etc., as it can allow producing bone marrow stem cells right from the patient's own skin. This also means that histocompatibility and HLA matching issues can loose their urgency, as transplants produced from patients own cells won't be rejected.
Bypassing the stage of skin cells reactivation, the procedure allows for avoiding safety issues and increasing efficiency. Moreover, it results in producing adult blood stem cells instead of fetal blood cells which could be produced from IPSC (induced pluripotent stem cells) or ESC (embryonic stem cells). The possibility of converting skin cells directly into hematopoietic stem cells is likely to change the whole paradigm of producing these cells.