Organ transplants are often the last – if not only – hope for people around the world suffering with a range of diseases, from heart disease to liver failure. But, that doesn’t mean there are enough organs to satisfy the need. Far from it.
There’s a global organ shortage, with over 6,000 people waiting on the transplant list in the United Kingdom alone. Last year, 400 people died waiting for a transplant. Fortunately, thanks to landmark research done by a team at University of California, San Francisco, there may be a solution to the problem: a universally transplantable stem cell.
The researchers focused on genetically engineering pluripotent stem cells, hoping that they would bypass the body’s immune system response. A negative response – which happens when a recipient’s immune system labels a foreign tissue a pathogen – can result in rejection of the transplanted tissue or organ.
With 25% of kidney recipients and 40% of heart recipients experiencing acute rejection in the first year, the potential of a universal stem cell that could bypass the body’s immune system response is incredible.
Scientists have known for a over a decade that fully formed adult cells could be converted into pluripotent stem cells, which can then become any kind of cell the body may need. These induced pluripotent stem cells (iSPCs) have changed the future of regenerative medicine – and medicine in general – as there are seemingly limitless applications, including the treatment of spinal cord injuries.
But, even with a lot of potential, there are still a lot of challenges in using iSPCs effectively in treatment.
The researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, led by Dr. Tobias Deuse, knew that in order to effectively produce quality-controlled iSPCs, the process for creation had to be overhauled. Currently, scientists harvest adult stem cells from patients. This prevents the transplant rejection mentioned earlier once the adult stem cells are transplanted back into the patient. Unfortunately, this process is time-consuming and, according to Deuse, it’s also unreliable.
To solve the problem of the process, Deuse and his team used CRISPR to edit the cells, resulting in triple-engineered, ‘universal’ iSPCs. In a variety of animal tests, the iSPCs were successfully transplanted into mismatched mice without rejection.
After the success of the initial tests, the researchers went on to make human heart cells with iSPCs which were transplanted into humanised mouse models. The cells weren’t rejected and began forming simple blood vessels and heart muscle tissue.
The Benefits of a Universal Stem Cell
While we can’t say with any certainty how or when these engineered iSPCs will evolve and be introduced into human trials, it is likely, according to the team of researchers, that should the cells be universally transplantable, transplants will be more safe, more effective and less expensive.
In his study, Dr. Tobias Deuse remarked that ‘’Our technique can benefit a wider range of people with production costs that are far lower than any individualized approach.’
As is the case across medical and scientific fields, one team’s research informs another as we all work towards innovative and life-changing technologies that can help treat and cure patients around the world. Keep up with Celixir on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stem cell and regenerative medicine news.