The study, funded by the United Kingdom Government’s Department of Trade and Industry, is led by Dr Colin McGuckin and Dr Nico Forraz from Kingston University’s School of Life Sciences. It represents a significant step forward in the fast-developing field of stem cell research. Until now, experts have struggled to find a supply of cells in sufficient numbers that does not offend previous critics of stem cell research. The latest advance may overcome such difficulties.
The trans-Atlantic team has been working with Drs Randall Urban, Larry Denner and Ronald Tilton from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. They have been using bioreactors at the Synthecon Corporation base in Houston enabling them to produce stem cells sharing many of the same characteristics as cells found in embryos. Research has so far relied on so-called adult cells found in blood and bone marrow from birth onwards or cells grown from embryos. The new type detected by the team harnesses the benefits of both. “We have found a unique group of cells that bring together the essential qualities of both types of stem cells for the first time,” Dr McGuckin said.
The researcher?s findings may bring renewed hope to people awaiting treatment for a range of serious illnesses. “Acquiring stem cells from embryos also has major limitations because it is difficult to obtain enough cells to transplant as well as getting the right tissue type for the patient,” Dr McGuckin said. “Using cord blood gets over that obstacle because we can produce more stem cells and, with a global birth rate of 100 million babies a year, there is a better chance of getting the right tissue type for the many patients out there waiting for stem cell therapy. There is also far less likelihood of such cells being rejected when they are transplanted into people with liver disease, for example.”