Taking the silk road to stem cells success

Researchers at Jeddah’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have identified a method to improve how bone marrow moves stem cells. The studies represent a breakthrough that could lead to improvements in the treatment of a multitude of serious health conditions.

One of the most important elements is cord blood, which is collected from the placenta after childbirth. This blood is commonly used in transplants for the treatment of certain genetic and blood disorders because it contains stem cells –cells with the potential to replace damaged or faulty cells. Cord blood can currently be used to treat more than 80 serious and life-threatening diseases. It travels to the bone marrow where it helps a patient to recover from disease. The journey to the bone marrow is not easy, however, so finding ways to help the blood cells on their way is vital for treatment. It’s known that a specific enzyme, fucosyltransferase VI (FTVI), helps with this process, but resources are limited and production methods are inefficient and costly.

The team at KAUST has developed a method of purifying FTVI with high yields, outstripping the performance of current commercial sources. Working in collaboration with a Japanese team, researchers engineered yeast cells and silk work larvae to express the human form of FTVI, with a bespoke purification process. Using the high-yield FTVI, the team has seen stem cells successfully migrate to bone marrow following a transplant.