McMaster University Scientists Turn Skin into Blood

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McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario has announced that researchers have discovered how to create human blood from adult human skin.

This Canadian discovery may eventually enable hospitals to have blood made from a patch of skin from the patient’s own body to provide transfusions in surgery or to treat cancer or other blood conditions such as anemia.

The research results were published in the science journal Nature on November 7 and Clinical trials in humans may begin as earlier as 2012.

Mick Bhatia, scientific director of McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, and his researcher team also revealed that the conversion from skin to blood is direct.  Making blood with this method does not require the interim step of changing skin stem cells into pluripotent stem cells – which are capable of making many other types of human cells – and then turning them into blood stem cells.

“We have shown this works using human skin. We know how it works and believe we can even improve on the process,” Bhatia explained. “We’ll now go on to work on developing other types of human cell types from skin, as we already have encouraging evidence.”

In a media interview, Bhatia indicated that a patch only 4” by 3” would be capable of producing enough blood for a full grown adult, utilizing existing techniques that can increase blood cell numbers.

Over a two year period, researchers replicated this method several times using skin cells from both young and elderly to ensure it works for people of any age.

Authorities in the medical fields that will benefit from this discovery greeted the news with enthusiasm.

Cynthia Dunbar, head of the molecular hematopoiesis section of the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said: “Bhatia’s convincing demonstration that skin cells can be directly converted to hematopoietic progenitor cells is exciting and will immediately change the paradigms regarding the best way forward for production of hematopoietic cells to be used in regenerative medicine and in the study of human blood diseases.

Director of research for the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, Christine Williams , sees the potential for cancer treatment.

“We are happy to be able to fund this important stem cell research which holds enormous promise for improved treatment of many types of cancer, including solid tumours and leukemias,” she said.