Bone marrow is much more than the mushy stuff inside your bones, it’s a prime piece of real estate where your blood cells are made. To increase our understanding of this nifty little blood cell factory, scientists have now developed a new form of artificial bone marrow in a breakthrough that could lead to lifesaving treatments for people suffering from blood conditions such as leukemia.
As reported in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Swiss scientists, led by the University of Basel, engineered the tissue by adding human mesenchymal stromal cells to a bone-like ceramic and then placing it in a perfusion bioreactor. The newly developed artificial bone marrow mimics some of the 3D structure and complex biological properties of natural bone marrow, allowing stem cells to live and multiply for several days. In past attempts, this was never possible.
Each day, your body creates 200 billion new red and white blood cells. These all start living in the bone marrow as hematopoietic stem cells, a rather handy type of cell that can differentiate into a bunch of different blood cell types.
Some conditions, such as leukemia, begin with abnormal blood cells produced in the bone marrow. Bone marrow transplantation can be used to treat the condition; however, it needs to come from a well-matched individual, which is not always possible. Other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, also come with their drawbacks.
So far, our scientific understanding of human blood cell formation and blood disorders has been held back because the material is inaccessible, meaning it's tough for scientists to carry out in vitro experiments.
Researchers can now use this new tissue to carry out experiments that will hopefully help to increase our understanding of transplantation, drugs, and other treatments for blood disorders, along with gaining insight into human blood formation.
“We could use bone and bone marrow cells from patients to create an in vitro model of blood diseases such as leukemia, for example. Importantly, we could do this in an environment that consists exclusively of human cells and which incorporates conditions tailored to the specific individual," Professor Ivan Martin and Professor Timm Schroeder explain in a statement.