Iowa State University researchers have made a groundbreaking discovery that could eliminate the need for bone marrow transplants. Assistant Professor Raquel Espin Palazon and her team found that a microbial sensor called Nod1, which helps identify bacterial infections, also plays a crucial role in the creation of blood stem cells. Understanding this process could pave the way for the production of functional blood stem cells in vitro, a feat that is currently not possible. This development could potentially revolutionize the treatment of diseases such as leukemia and anemia by enabling the creation of patient-specific blood stem cells, eliminating the need to find matching donors and reducing the risk of graft-versus-host disease.
The researchers discovered that Nod1 needs to be activated before certain endothelial cells transform into blood stem cells in embryos. By activating Nod1 in immature stem cells taken from patients, it may be possible to create blood stem cells for treatment. Currently, bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplants are the only available treatment for some blood diseases and disorders, but finding matching donors can be challenging. Even if a match is found, recipients face a high risk of graft-versus-host disease. By creating patient-specific blood stem cells, the risks associated with transplants can be significantly reduced. Espin Palazon believes that new blood stem cells could be created from patients within the next 20 years.
Espin Palazon stumbled upon this discovery while studying the immune system during her doctoral research in Spain. Her interest in inflammatory signals led her to investigate the impact on embryonic development, a topic that had been largely neglected by scientists. She described her contribution to the scientific community and humanity as “amazing.” This breakthrough in stem cell research has the potential to transform the field of medicine and improve the lives of thousands of individuals diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.