Scientists hail stem cell breakthrough

Cambridge University laboratory
Scientists at work at Cambridge University Photo: ITV Anglia

Scientists at Cambridge University are celebrating a discovery which could make stem cell medicine much more accessible to patients.

For the first time, they have succeeded in building a stem cell from a patient's blood. The discovery means the day scientists are able to build a whole human organ from stem cells may also be just a little closer.

Stem cells are a key area for medical research as they can be built into cells from any part of the body, so theoretically should be able to repair any organ. Previously they had to be built from taking a skin biopsy which is painful and leaves a scar.

So far the stem cells made from blood are not safe enough to be transplanted into patients, but are being used to build heart cells. Dr Amer Rana, says these can then be tested to see which treatment will suit a patient.

"Effectively we've talking about tailored medicine so the stem cells from that particular patient can be tested with different varieties of drug and we can find exactly the right match and improve their life."

Lawrence Kissoon suffers from Pulmonary Hypertension which is high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs that can lead to heart failure. He can see immediate benefits to this research, if drugs can be tested on stem cells rather than patients.

"I did decline a drugs trial a few months ago because of concerns about safety, whereas a lot of the safety implications and the risks could be done and dusted in the lab."

Lawrence is hopeful today's research may one day do away with the need for transplants, if patients can grow a new organ from their own stem cells. That's also the dream of scientists in Cambridge.

"Longterm if we could model the heart or the lungs which are our main tissues of interest - anything is game for the future, hopefully!"

– Dr Amer Rana, University of Cambridge