The State Government of Victoria, Australia announced that Melbourne scientists at Monash University have developed a unique technology that can grow large numbers of blood cells from human embryonic stem cells.
The system which is more effective and cleaner than previous techniques will provide a tool for the study of blood development, much of which remains a mystery. It could also be used to produce red blood cells in the laboratory to solve the universal shortage of blood and may someday alleviate shortages of blood needed for transfusions, or provide cells for blood/bone marrow transplants for patients with leukemia or other cancers. The research will be published in the international journal Blood and be discussed at BIO 2005, the world's biggest biotechnology meeting being held in Philadelphia from June 19-22.
The team, headed by Dr Andrew Elefanty and Dr Ed Stanley, has developed a system that uses a combination of growth factors to grow large numbers of blood cells from human embryonic stem cells. While not the first laboratory to do this, their technique is faster, more reproducible and, most importantly, grows the cells in a 'clean' environment with minimal animal contamination equivalent to that seen in current therapies such as bone marrow transplants.
One big hurdle in stem cell research at present is the inability of laboratories to efficiently grow blood cells from embryonic stem cells without the use of an additive called fetal calf serum. This means that any cells grown in this animal-based product carry the risk of being contaminated with animal viruses, making them a less attractive option for human therapies. The Monash technique, however, will overcome this problem with the research due to be published in the journal, Blood.
According to Dr Elefanty the latest research from their lab means that there is now the potential to grow large numbers of blood cells from a pool of human embryonic stem cells -- potentially solving the need for transfusions and opening the way to grow human tissues.
In addition the technique will be used to study the development of many different types of cells -- much of which remains a mystery to scientists -- and to provide pharmaceutical companies with a tool to test drugs cheaply and accurately before going into clinical trials.