Ann Arbor (MI) – In a University of Michigan laboratory, scientists have created artificial bone marrow that’s capable of creating a continuous supply of red and white blood cells. Such technology could enable a neverending supply of blood for transfusions, as well as better studies of pharmaceutical drugs and their interactions, as well as advanced studies on immune system defects.
[Editor’s note: We realize this isn’t a typical TG Daily story, but the ramifications here are astounding. Imagine blood banks that are constantly stocked even when donors are low. Or the ability to reproduce your own blood, your own antibodies directly and continuously even if your bone marrow is damaged by some form of drug treatment, just by taking a sample before the medications are given. We at TG Daily don’t believe the significance of this finding can be overstated. This is the kind of research that earns people Nobel Prizes.]
The artificial marrow is not designed to be put into a body. Instead, it operates only in the lab. According to Nicholas Kotov, a U-M professor heading up the project, “The substance grows on a 3-D scaffold that mimics the tissues supporting bone marrow in the body. This is the first successful artificial bone marrow. It has two of the essential functions of bone marrow. It can replicate blood stem cells and produce B cells. The latter are the key immune cells producing antibodies that are important to fighting many diseases.”
Many cancer fighting drugs significantly depress bone marrow function. As a result many cancer patients need bone marrow transplants – a painful and dangerous procedure which often involves a close match donor, such as an immediate family member. The new marrow could help researchers determine how drugs react, and what different types of drug interactions might be that would affect marrow operation. The dangerous components of new drug therapies could be sorted out ahead of time with artificial marrow, long before any human trials put people at risk.
Creating artificial bone marrow has proven to be difficult. It requires a “high number of precisely-sized pores to simulate cellular interaction,” according to Kotov. The 3D scaffold design was absolutely crucial in creating the artificial marrow.
Once created, the scaffolds are then seeded with regular bone marrow components (like stromal cells and osteoblasts). According to Kotov, “The geometrical perfection of the polymer molded by spheres is very essential for reproducibility of the drug tests and evaluation of potential drug candidates. The scaffold for this work had to be designed from scratch closely mimicking real bone marrow because there are no suitable commercial products.”
He also found that “Certain stem cells that are essential for immunity and blood production are [also] able to grow, divide and differentiate efficiently in these scaffolds due to the close similarity of the pores in the scaffold and the pores in actual bone marrow.”
The team has even demonstrated that the artificial marrow gives a “human-like response” to the “New Caledonia/99/H1N1 flu virus,” which is believed to be the first time such a reaction has been observed.
To support even further the “realness” of the artificial marrow, researchers also implanted some in mice with immune deficiencies. The mice produced human immune cells. New blood vessels even grew through the artificial substance. Truly remarkable!
A full paper describing the technology called “In vitro analog of human bone marrow from 3D scaffolds with Biomimetic inverted colloidal crystal geometry” appears in the journal Biomaterials. U-M receives funding for this kind of work from the National Science Foundation.