If you saw 60 Minutes II last night (Weds. 11/28/01), they made it sound like stem cells (specifically those found within the cord blood extracted from umbilical cords) could be the cure-all to blood diseases. But, I can’t believe we’ve found the key to making it all so simple now. Anyone have any additional knowledge on this?
They claimed the transfusion of these cells changed the patient’s blood type and one doctor almost said “a little dab will do ya”. But, the story left out a lot, from a scientific perspective. For example, they never made mention if the blood disease can come out of remission.
It was also unclear to me if this was an experimental type of procedure on a human, or if the procedure is now a standard in the fight against blood diseases.
< bump > from page 2.
I didn’t see the show, but your Straight Dope-honed instincts are probably good. It was probably an “easy answer” show, but it’s not an “easy answer” subject. There’s still a certain amount of controversy within the scientific community as to whether, and how, it works. And it’s not exactly “still experimental”, but it’s not exactly “standard treatment”, either.
Page o’ links, for a rainy November evening.
From what I know about stem cells (several lectures on a graduate genetic level), there are still a number of problems. What you are probably thinking about is either bone marrow transplant (BMT) either from a donor or from cleaned autologous donation after total body irradiation to kill all of your “sick” bone marrow. The transplant then engrafts and forms good normal healthy blood.
Yes, it is used. It is incredibly expensive. The isolation of stem cells, either from cord blood or from bone marrow is still quite expensive. We can’t grow cord blood or stem cells in a dish (clonally) yet – they need to be donated for every use. The BMT technique is used for some leukemias, but as you can imagine total body irradiation is not without risks – it leaves a patient with absolutely no immune system whatsoever for a period of up to several months. Also there are immune cells not in the blood (macrophages) which may react with new blood antigens sometime down the road if a complete match is not found, necessitating long term immunosuppression. But I didn’t see the article so maybe they have found some way around this.
It is a very promising technique, especially with the idea of genetic manipulation of the blood, and the possibilities that blood stem cells can form other kinds of tissues in a little understood process where stem cells change types (muscle to neural, muscle to blood, blood to muscle so far, others may be down the road).