Patients with blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma are often treated by irradiating their bone marrow to destroy the diseased cells. After the treatment, patients are vulnerable to infection and fatigue until new blood cells grow back.
MIT researchers have now devised a way to help blood cells regenerate faster. Their method involves stimulating a particular type of stem cell to secrete growth factors that help precursor cells differentiate into mature blood cells.
Using a technique known as mechanopriming, the researchers grew mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) on a surface whose mechanical properties are very similar to that of bone marrow. This induced the cells to produce special factors that help hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) differentiate into red and white blood cells, as well as platelets and other blood cells.
“You can think about it like you’re trying to grow a plant,” says Krystyn Van Vliet, the Michael and Sonja Koerner Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, a professor of biological engineering, and associate provost. “The MSCs are coming in and improving the soil so that the progenitor cells can start proliferating and differentiating into the blood cell lineages that you need to survive.”