New Development in Stem Cell Therapy Advances Leukemia Treatment
Canadian researchers at the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) have discovered a protein which can regulate the activities of stem cells and also make them easily available in the blood stream. This advancement can have significant implications in treating blood cancer in the future through stem cell therapy.
The results of their findings are published in the September 2010 issue of Blood, the official journal of the American Society of Hematology.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
It involves injection of specialized cells of bone marrow in a patient with blood cancer. The bone marrow is the soft and spongy central section of bones where these specialized cells known as stem cells are produced in healthy individuals. When blood cancer affects an individual, the body starts destroying its own healthy stem cells.
The rogue cells of the natural protection system (technically called the immune system) cause this disruption and are destroyed by either using powerful energy waves (Radiation therapy) or by potent chemicals (Chemotherapy). In this process, the stem cells in the patient’s body also get destroyed.
To replenish the presence of blood cells back to normalcy, fresh stem cells are injected into the patient’s body after the above mentioned treatments. The stem cells have the unique capability of getting converted to any of the blood cell types depending on the environment and requirement of the body. They are either collected from the body and grown prior to the treatment and injected back or are taken from healthy individuals and transplanted into the patient’s body.
Complications of Stem Cell Therapy:
Stem cells reside in a corner of the bone marrow and its surrounding cells in a latent state. They have to be transported from these corners to the blood stream so that they are available in large numbers for collection. Thus, identification and availability of stem cells in plethora is a major treatment issue.
When transplanted into a patient’s body, there are chances of the immune system wrongly identifying these foreign cells as a threat and rejecting them. If ever they survive this threat, the rate of production of new blood cells by these stem cells remains slow. The patient meanwhile may develop infection and lose life as is seen in 10-20 percent of stem cell transplantation cases.
In spite of these complications, this therapy is one of the widely used treatments for leukemia and other associated ailments of blood.
Discovery of the Research Study:
The research was carried out on experimental mice. It discovered a protein called Gfi1b found to regulate the activity and whereabouts of stem cells in the bone.
As a part of the study, when the gene associated with Gfi1b was inactivated, it was found that the stem cells became more active by increasing in number at a faster rate, left their corners in the bone and readily entered into the blood stream.
The best part of the discovery was that these stem cells retained their precious properties on entering the blood stream even after the inactivation of the gene associated with Gfi1b protein.
Implications of this Research:
Inactivation of Gfi1b in the transplanted stem cells can very quickly grow large number of fresh blood cells in the patients. This discovery has created a possibility for making stem cell therapy more effective and safe in treating blood cancer. Moreover, the study has helped in gaining further insight on the biology, mobilization and dormancy of the precious stem cells.