12 August 2016
The benefits of bone marrow transplantation could be made available to a broader range of patients after scientists made an important breakthrough in developing a safer approach to administering the treatment.
A team from the Stanford University School of Medicine have conducted tests on mice of a chemotherapy-free approach to bone marrow transplants that greatly reduces the toxicity and danger associated with the therapy, potentially putting long-term cures for a wide range of chronic conditions within reach.
Bone marrow transplantation is also known as blood stem cell transplantation and can act as a lasting solution for any disease caused by the patient's own blood and immune cells. However, even though it is a powerful technique, it is currently so risky that it is only used in the most critical cases.
At present, successfully transplanting blood stem cells requires the patient's existing population of blood stem cells to be killed using chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which can cause short and long-term damage to many parts of the body, including the liver, reproductive organs and brain, as well as posing a potential risk of mortality.
To circumvent these risks, the Stanford University research has identified a way of modifying certain antibodies and proteins within the body to trigger the immune system to deplete blood-forming stem cells in mice, clearing the way for transplanted blood stem cells from a donor to be introduced without any need for chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Moreover, it was also possible to purify the donor tissue so that it contained only blood stem cells, leaving out other immune cells that can often cause graft-versus-host diseases in current practice.
Dr Irving Weissman, a co-author of the research and professor of pathology and developmental biology at Stanford University Medical Center, said: "There is almost no category of disease or organ transplant that is not impacted by this research ... If and when this is accomplished, it will be a whole new era in disease treatment and regenerative medicine."
If this can be replicated in humans, the researchers believe the risk of death from blood stem cell transplant could be cut from 20 per cent to "effectively zero", allowing a number of chronic diseases to be potentially cured with a safe one-time application of blood stem cell transplantation.
For example, replacing the blood and immune cells would be an effective means of eradicating any cells that are damaging healthy tissue in cases of inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.
Moreover, organ transplantation could be made safer and easier, as it would be possible to transplant across blood and immune stem cells from the organ donor at the same time as the organ itself, meaning the recipient's immune system will not attack the new organ. This would mean those treated in this manner would no longer need to be dependent on immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the development of this technique remains in its early stages, meaning human applications are likely to be many years off.
Posted by Jeanette Royston
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