Researchers may have found a way to make stem cell therapy much less controversial: the conversion of blood cells into stem cells.
Stem cells have been heralded by medicine as a possibility of creating new treatments for devastating illnesses, because stem cells can become any cell in the body. However, embryonic stem cells are difficult to use, due to a number of legal and ethical complications.
In a study published in the journal Stem Cells: Translational Medicine, researchers found that they could convert blood cells into stem cells. Researchers said that the process was patient-friendly and efficient and could turn the blood cells into virtually any other cell in the body, with the use of a chemical cocktail. They hope to use the process to build blood vessel cells and heart cells to reverse the damage caused by cardiovascular illnesses, though the process could also convert the cells into anything from eye to bone cells.
The type of cell could also be stored for long periods of time. Researchers say that at any moment, the cells can be used to become stem cells.
This finding is welcome news for doctors and researchers, who had previously taken "induced pluripotent cells" from skin or other tissues. These procedures could require surgery or biopsies and were impractical for children or for the elderly.
Meanwhile, blood samples are routine procedure for all patients, making it much easier to retrieve the cells.
Amer Rana, one of the study authors, said that the ultimate goal was to reconstruct tissue around the heart.
Though the procedure has potential, it will be some time before the technique will be used in local hospitals.
"That is a little way away just because we want to make sure the cells are safe as this technology only came around five years ago in humans so it is still early on," Amer said to The Telegraph. "But a really important step is, rather than simple think about the technology in a laboratory, transfer it into a clinic and make it useful for everybody."
Cardiovascular illnesses are the leading killers of Americans.