Bone marrow is a complex tissue that, until now, could only be studied in living animals. Recently, Harvard researchers created “bone marrow on a chip” by reproducing the structure and function of bone marrow. Past efforts involving combining cells on an artificial surface have failed, because bone marrow is extremely complex. So researchers turned to animals for help. By creating a framework of bone powder and implanting it under the skin of an animal, the animal’s body did the work for them and created an impressive bone and marrow structure!
The engineered bone marrow could help researchers assess potential side effects of cancer treatments, observe the effects of drugs to prevent radiation poisoning, and even generate blood cells. It may even be possible to grow human bone marrow in immune-deficient mice!
Researchers work with animals because they often give more accurate information than cell cultures and computer simulations alone. From vaccine development to cancer treatments to joint replacement surgery, animals have been- and continue to be- extremely important in the effort to save lives. And now, animals are helping researchers create better alternatives, which could ultimately reduce the number of animals needed in research without compromising research outcomes. Good news for everyone!
Horses and rabbits can help improve outcomes for human patients receiving bone marrow transplants. Wait- horses and rabbits? Yes!
Bone marrow transplants involve harvesting stem cells from the bone marrow of a healthy person and transplanting them into a patient with certain cancers or blood disorders- leukemia, aplastic anemia, and sickle cell disease, to name a few. Harvesting stem cells from a relative usually has the best outcome, but that’s not always possible. A full sibling only has about a 25% chance of being a match, so most patients find an unrelated match through the bone marrow registry. (www.bethematch.org) Finding a way to improve the outcome for unrelated matches is always a goal in research- and this is where horses and rabbits come in!
Researchers inject human T-cells into a rabbit or a horse. Then, the animal’s immune system kills the T-cells and their bodies create antibodies. These antibodies are then removed and given to human patients- and they then kill the patient’s T-cells, reducing the risk of rejection!
Horse or rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) has been used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients as well as in the treatment of aplastic anemia. Talk about animals helping people!
Photo from http://cancerlabtechperspective.blogspot.com
New information from research in Toronto could help improve the effectiveness of bone marrow transplants for patients suffering from leukemia (and other cancers and immune disorders). Studies in mice, which were confirmed with samples from humans, showed that stem cells from bone ends are better at regenerating blood cells and immune system cells than the stem cells located in the shafts of bones. Not only are these cells better at regenerating, but they also work more efficiently and for longer periods of time than cells from the middle of the bones.
If doctors are able to collect stem cells that are more efficient, bone marrow transplants could not only be improved, but may be able to be effective for more people. The next step is to investigate the best ways of retrieving these superior stem cells. It’s exciting research, and could prove to really make a difference in bone marrow transplant methods. Stay tuned!