Nav: Home

Genetic code of red blood cells discovered

June 02, 2016

Eight days. That's how long it takes for skin cells to reprogram into red blood cells. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, together with colleagues at Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona, have successfully identified the four genetic keys that unlock the genetic code of skin cells and reprogram them to start producing red blood cells instead.

"We have performed this experiment on mice, and the preliminary results indicate that it is also possible to reprogram skin cells from humans into red blood cells. One possible application for this technique is to make personalised red blood cells for blood transfusions, but this is still far from becoming a clinical reality", says Johan Flygare, manager of the research group and in charge of the study.

Every individual has a unique genetic code, which is a complete instruction manual describing exactly how all the cells in the body are formed. This instruction manual is stored in the form of a specific DNA sequence in the cell nucleus. All human cells -- brain, muscle, fat, bone and skin cells -- have the exact same code. The thing that distinguishes the cells is which chapter of the manual the cells are able to read. The research group in Lund wanted to find out how the cells open the chapter that contains instructions on how to produce red blood cells. The skin cells on which the study was based had access to the instruction manual, but how were the researchers able to get them to open the chapter describing red blood cells?

With the help of a retrovirus, they introduced different combinations of over 60 genes into the skin cells' genome, until one day they had successfully converted the skin cells into red blood cells. The study is published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

"This is the first time anyone has ever succeeded in transforming skin cells into red blood cells, which is incredibly exciting", says Sandra Capellera, doctoral student and lead author of the study.

The study shows that out of 20,000 genes, only four are necessary to reprogram skin cells to start producing red blood cells. Also, all four are necessary in order for it to work.

"It's a bit like a treasure chest where you have to turn four separate keys simultaneously in order for the chest to open", explains Sandra.

The discovery is significant from several aspects. Partly from a biological point of view -- understanding how red blood cells are produced and which genetic instructions they require - but also from a therapeutic point of view, as it creates an opportunity to produce red blood cells from the skin cells of a patient. There is currently a lack of blood donors for, for instance, patients with anaemic diseases. Johan Flygare explains:

"An ageing population means more blood transfusions in the future. There will also be an increasing amount of people coming from other countries with rare blood types, which means that we will not always have blood to offer them".

Red blood cells are the most common cells in the human body, and are necessary in order to transport oxygen and carbon dioxide. Millions of people worldwide suffer from anaemia -- a condition in which the patient has an insufficient amount of red blood cells. Patients with chronic anaemia are among the most problematic cases. They receive regular blood transfusions from different donors, which can eventually lead to the patient developing a reaction to the new blood. They simply become allergic to the donor's blood. Finding a feasible way to make blood from an individual's own skin cells would bring relief to this group of patients. However, further studies on how the generated blood performs in living organisms are needed.
-end-
Defining the Minimal Factors Required for Erythropoiesis through Direct Lineage Conversion. Published in Cell Reports on June 2, 2016

For more information, please contact:

Johan FlygareMD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Lund University, Sweden
Tel: +46 727 395959
E-mail: johan.flygare@med.lu.se

Lund University

Related Regenerative Medicine Articles:

MDI Biological Laboratory to offer symposium on latest advances in regenerative medicine
The MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, will sponsor a symposium entitled 'Learning from Nature: Comparative Biology of Tissue Regeneration and Aging,' Aug.
Canada continues to punch above its weight in the field of regenerative medicine
A new workshop report, Building on Canada's Strengths in Regenerative Medicine, released today by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), confirms that Canadian researchers continue to be recognized as scientific leaders in the field of regenerative medicine and stem cell science.
Exploring the past, present and future of regenerative medicine
The award-winning, MEDLINE-indexed journal Regenerative Medicine has released a special focus issue on the 10th anniversary of the publication's launch highlighting the key developments in the last 10 years.
Center for Regenerative Medicine receives 3 prestigious NIH awards
The Center for Regenerative Medicine at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine has received three prestigious awards from the National Institutes of Health to further its commitment to induced pluripotent stem cell research and education.
Pitt researchers solve mystery on how regenerative medicine works
Researchers identify mechanism by which bioscaffolds used in regenerative medicine influence cellular behavior, a question that has remained unanswered since the technology was first developed several decades ago.
Regenerative medicine improves strength and function in severe muscle injuries
Patients with severe muscle loss surgically implanted with bioscaffolds derived from pig tissue showed significant improvement in strength and range of motion, as well as evidence for skeletal muscle regeneration.
Gauging stem cells for regenerative medicine
Salk researchers and collaborators provide a new benchmark for generating the most primitive type of stem cell.
New approach for regenerative diabetes therapy
The marker Flattop subdivides the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas into those that maintain glucose metabolism and into immature cells that divide more frequently and adapt to metabolic changes.
Regenerative medicine offering new treatment for bronchopleural fistulas
For the first time in human application, Mayo Clinic researchers successfully closed an open wound on the upper chest caused by postoperative complications of lung removal.
Expansion of kidney progenitor cells toward regenerative medicine
The kidney is a difficult organ to regenerate. However, in a big step forward for kidney regeneration research, a collaboration between scientists from Japan and the US has successfully demonstrated a method of increasing kidney progenitor cell proliferation in vitro.

Related Regenerative Medicine Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".