March 17, 2010

Weill Researchers Make New Discoveries in Stem Cell Technology

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Breaking scientific ground, researchers at the Ansary Stem Cell Institute at Weill Cornell Medical College discovered that endothelial cells, which line the interior surface of blood vessels, produce an abundance of adult stem cells. With the increased stem cell availability this new technology provides, it will be easier to create bone marrow transplants and organ regeneration.

Instead of relying on the few stem cells organs naturally produce, endothelial cells can provide stem cells without added growth factors and in unlimited supply, according to the scientific journal Cell Stem Cell. The research sheds new light on blood vessels: in addition to transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout our body, blood vessels can save lives by proliferating essential stem cells.

Dr. Shahin Rafii, senior author of the study, first developed the concept that endothelial cells “promote the maintenance and expansion of blood cells” in 1994, according to Jason Butler, senior scientist of the study. Joining Rafii, Butler has executed the project’s laboratory studies for the past three and a half years.

Prior to this finding, adult stem cell cultures would die within four to five days. Additionally, animal-based growth factors, serum and genetically-manipulated feeder cells were necessary to expand cultures of adult stem cells, according to Rafii.

“Now, the novel cellular platform makes it so you can use the stem cells for up to 21 days,” Rafii said. “It’s extraordinary that we can now expand adult stem cells for any type of organ regeneration.”

The longer-living stem cells can be used for various types of therapies, including those for the heart, brain, skin and lungs.

While researchers have only transferred rodent blood cells into mice, Butler hopes to soon engraph human blood cells into mice. If those studies test successfully, researchers can enter the final stage of testing — clinical trials on humans. Due to the process of approvals, however, Butler foresees that they will reach this point in six months to one year.

Researchers continue to make the final touches on human core blood stem cells. Stressing that this research is just the beginning, Rafii invites the “talented people from [the] Ithaca campus to join us.”

There are available fellowships and work opportunities available in Weill Cornell Medical College’s laboratories, Rafii said.

“We still don’t know how we produce stem cells. There is a lot of room to study and find out how this study takes place.”

Original Author: Margo Cohen Ristorucci