Scientists make blood stem cells in the lab

Rio Sugimura

Scientists are getting closer to being able to routinely make blood stem cells in the lab, two new research papers in Nature show. The ability to create blood stem cells that can combat deadly diseases like leukemia has been one of the holy grails of cancer research for years.

Why it matters: Blood stem cells could have immense implications for therapies, drug screening and research. Researchers have proposed, for instance, that some day cells could be extracted from leukemia patients (whose systems are suppressing the production of normal blood cells), transformed into blood stem cells and then infused back into the patients as a personalized therapy.

Caveats: But there is a long journey from the lab to therapy, with no guarantee it will work. The safety of blood stem cells in humans would have to be tested, the long term effects of treatment would have to be studied and a process for manufacturing them established.

What they did: In one of the studies, researchers used chemical signals to convert embryonic stem cells into a specific type of stem cell that lines the walls of blood vessels. From there, they altered seven key ways in which genetic information is passed along in order to create blood stem cells. In the second study, researchers used adult mouse skin cells as the starting point and transformed them into mouse blood cells in much the same fashion as the first study.