Potential to prevent transplant rejection, treat autoimmune diseases and immunodeficiencies.
Raising hopes for cell-based therapies, UC San Francisco researchers have created the first functioning human thymus tissue from embryonic stem cells in the laboratory. The researchers showed that, in mice, the tissue can be used to foster the development of white blood cells the body needs to mount healthy immune responses and to prevent harmful autoimmune reactions.
The scientists who developed the thymus cells — which caused the proliferation and maturation of functioning immune cells when transplanted — said the achievement marks a significant step toward potential new treatments based on stem-cell and organ transplantation, as well as new therapies for type-1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases, and for immunodeficiency diseases.
Starting with human embryonic stem cells, UCSF researchers led by Mark Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., an immunologist, and Matthias Hebrok, Ph.D., a stem-cell researcher and the director of the UCSF Diabetes Center, used a unique combination of growth factors to shape the developmental trajectory of the cells, and eventually hit upon a formula that yielded functional thymus tissue.
The result, reported in today’s (May 16) online edition of the journal Cell Stem Cell, is functioning tissue that nurtures the growth and development of the white blood cells known as T cells. T cells are a central immune cell population that responds to specific disease pathogens and also prevents the immune system from attacking the body’s own tissues.