Scientists Create Blood with Potential for Future Treatments

June 28, 2018

Researchers develop a simple and efficient method to induce human pluripotent stem cells to become blood, which could be key in future treatments for blood disorders, immune deficiencies and cancer


Scientists at Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago discovered a way to increase the efficiency of mature blood production in a dish. They first converted human skin cells to pluripotent stem cells, which are stem cells that have the potential to develop into many different kinds of cells. Then they coaxed these stem cells into becoming a variety of blood cells, including immune cells called “natural killer” cells that are part of the body’s natural defense against cancer and infection. Results of their study, which hold promise for future treatments, were published in Experimental Hematology.

While studying the earliest steps of how blood cells develop from pluripotent stem cells, which mimic embryonic stem cells, researchers observed that in vitro what is called “definitive” or mature blood forms independently from “primitive” blood, which normally appears early in the development of an embryo. Previously it was not clear whether primitive blood was a precursor to definitive blood or if they developed separately. 

“In our study we found that developmental pathways toward definitive and primitive blood diverge early in the process, confirming that in vitro definitive blood does not develop from primitive blood,” says first author Yekaterina Galat, BS, Research Associate at Manne Research Institute at Lurie Children’s. “We showed that by inhibiting the development of primitive blood we can increase the amount of definitive blood and expand the number of definitive cell types, including red blood cells and immune cells like macrophages and natural killer cells. We hope this work will ultimately translate to treatments for children with blood disorders.”

“Our ability to differentiate large quantities of blood cells from induced human pluripotent stem cells could be important for drug testing, pharmaceutical research and disease modeling, as well as developing therapies for cancer, blood disorders and immune deficiencies,” says senior author Vasil Galat, PhD, Director of the Human iPS and Stem Cell Core and member of the Developmental Biology Program at Manne Research Institute at Lurie Children’s. He also is Research Associate Professor of Pathology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S.News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 208,000 children from 50 states and 58 countries.