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Researchers multiply blood cells in the lab, furthering development of novel treatments


Montreal, QC – A team from the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) at Université de Montréal has produced a large quantity of laboratory stem cells from a small number of blood stem cells obtained from bone marrow.

The multidisciplinary team is directed by Dr Guy Sauvageau.

It is known that a bone marrow stem cell transplant can reconstitute the recipient’s bone marrow. The main difficulty is to obtain a sufficient number of compatible stem cells, but this development may enable patients to obtain new bone marrow in the coming years.

“It could be possible to envision transplants for all adults from existing umbilical cord blood banks. The stem cell content of these blood banks is currently too limited for large-scale use in adults,” says Dr Sauvageau.

By extrapolation from laboratory studies, it is very likely that transplanting hematopoietic stem cells collected from organ donors and developed in the laboratory could avoid rejection of the transplanted organ. This is why it is important to have large quantities of hematopoietic stem cells, so that compatible stem cells can be matched with the organ to be transplanted.

To produce large quantities of hematopoietic stem cells in the lab, Dr Sauvageau’s team identified 10 proteins out of 700 candidates. These 10 proteins are naturally present in hematopoietic stem cells and researchers can use each of them to force these cells to multiply in the laboratory.

“The next step is to verify whether this also works in humans. Everything is already in place,” he says. “These tests will be conducted at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, one of the leading centres in Canada where stem cell transplants are performed. If only one of the ten proteins allows hematopoietic stem cells to be multiplied in humans, we will be able to obtain the quantities of cells necessary to perform transplants.”

The work of Dr Sauvageau’s team has been funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the findings are being published today in the scientific journal Cell.