By By Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer
For decades, doctors have been treating leukemia patients by transplanting stem cells from people with healthy bone marrow. But even though transplants can be a fairly effective treatment, there aren't enough tissue donors to treat every leukemia patient.
Now, researchers are taking the first steps toward making bone marrow in a lab: They are growing stem cells in a setting that mimics the natural environment of bone marrow.
Leukemia is a cancer that starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue inside bones that produces blood cells. The researchers' goal is to create artificial bone marrow that is capable of growing blood stem cells outside the body, said study researcher Cornelia Lee-Thedieck, of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany. Such stem cells could then be used to treat leukemia patients.
But creating bone marrow in a lab isn't easy. "Bone marrow is very complex, with many, many different cell types, molecules, proteins," Lee-Thedieck said. What's more, the stem cells that could be used to treat patients can only grow and keep their properties in an environment that closely mimics real human bone marrow. ...more