A challenging problem in biotechnology today is isolating an elusive type of blood cell that acts as a unique stem cell. Many believe it is too difficult a task to be worth the time and money. A research team at Ohio State University agrees with this belief, but sees no reason to despair: they instead propose an easier, more creative method to accomplish the same goal.
Blood vessels are one of the more difficult components of the body to repair. The most effective way to replace damaged or missing endothelial cells, the cells which make up the lining of blood vessels, is to insert stem cells into the area and let them mature into endothelial cells. The difficult part of this process is the fact that it takes a special kind of stem cell to be able to mature into an endothelial cell. This class of cell is known as endothelial progenitor cells and has thus far been frustratingly challenging to isolate and make any use of.
Nicanor Moldovan, PhD, of Ohio State University believes that isolating endothelial progenitor cells is not actually necessary. He presents a simple, “common sense” solution: instead of focusing on a single cell, he claims that it suffices to analyze the blood as a whole. Together, the cells in the blood act in the same way that a single progenitor cell does. As Moldovan puts it, “Our method determines the contributions of all blood cells that serve the same function that an endothelial progenitor cell is supposed to. We can detect the presence of those cells and their signatures in a clinical sample without the need to isolate them.”
Though it seems counterintuitive to solve the problem of blood vessel repair using components in ordinary blood, Moldovan views it as a new, less restrictive way of thinking about solving clinical problems. “It requires letting go of the old paradigm of ‘cell type’ and embracing the more abstract notion of a cluster of genes – a ‘metagene’– that associates with blood and changes as the condition of a patient changes,” he elaborates in an OSU article. The lab’s next goal is to see if this viewpoint proves useful in other clinical situations.
(An electron microscope image of the bloodstream, courtesy Wikimedia Commons and the National Cancer Institute)
This work was supported by two National Institutes of Health grants, including a “Grand Opportunities” award obtained under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. For more details on the funding for research at Ohio State University, peruse our Ohio State University Funding Report:
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