US scientists have discovered how to increase the safety of stem cell transplants, which could have big implications for people with type 1 diabetes.
Researchers from Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine have shown that a new technique could benefit autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and lupus.
Stem cell transplantation involves transplanting bone marrow stem cells from healthy donors into patients. This can reset the immune system.
But patients need to be stripped of the malfunctioning immune system beforehand using radiotherapy or chemotherapy, which can make doctors reluctant to perform the treatment, particularly because patients can die from this stripping procedure.
This new technique encourages the body to consume the malfunctioning blood cells, eliminating the need for chemotherapy to remove the defective immune system.
Stanford researchers have developed antibodies that latch onto malfunctioning blood cells. These are then flagged us as macrophages, enabling cells to eat up the harmful material.
Studies have already shown this technique to be successful in mice, and the aim is to reduce the risk of death from stem cell transplantation from 20 per cent to effectively zero.
“If and when this is accomplished, it will be a whole new era in disease treatment and regenerative medicine,” said Dr Irving Weissma, professor of pathology and director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.
“There is almost no category of disease or organ transplant that is not impacted by this research.”
The findings appear in the online journal Science Translational Medicine.

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