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article imageArtificial bone marrow could treat leukemia

By Tim Sandle     Jan 27, 2014 in Science
In a medical breakthrough, scientists have used stem cells to artificially grow bone marrow for use in transplants designed to combat leukemia.
Leukemia patients are traditionally treated by medics by transplanting stem cells from people with healthy bone marrow. However, while transplants are often an effective treatment, there are rarely enough tissue donors to treat every leukemia patient. Leukemia is a type of cancer of the blood or bone marrow characterized by an abnormal increase of immature white blood cells called "blasts."
This shortage of bone marrow has led scientists to look for an alternative; this has led to the development of an artificial bone marrow. To this end, researchers have been growing stem cells in a setting that mimics the natural environment of bone marrow.
Stem cells are undifferentiated biological cells, that can differentiate into specialized cells and can divide (through mitosis) to produce more stem cells. The cells are used in research because they have the capacity to differentiate into specialized cell types.
With the new process, the researchers recreated the spongy structure of bone marrow by making a hydrogel (like the material used to make contact lenses) around salt crystals, and then removing the crystals to leave holes for the stem cells to grow inside. They then added proteins and cells that support stem cells. Finally, they injected stem cells taken from umbilical-cord blood.
According to the research brief, the work successfully produced hematopoietic stem cells, which are the cells within the marrow that give rise to all types of blood cells. The stem cells reproduced in the artificial bone marrow, and more than 90 percent of cells still had the markings of stem cells after four days, a sign they retained their ability to form any type of blood cell. Thus, the artificial bone marrow was a success.
The findings have been published in the journal Biomaterials.
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