Bone marrow transplants are a common treatment for certain conditions related to the blood, but the patient’s immune system can often react badly to the foreign cells and attack them. Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) may help, but they too can be cleared out by immune cells. Now, a Harvard team has shown that coating MSCs in a thin hydrogel can protect them, making bone marrow transplants more successful.
Stem cells that make blood are found in the bone marrow, which is why bone marrow transplants could help people with blood cancers or certain metabolic disorders. The problem of course is that the immune system can recognize transplanted tissue as foreign, and in a misguided attempt to help, it attacks the new cells. MSCs are known to regulate the immune system by secreting certain compounds, which in turn might keep it from attacking the transplant – but they too are vulnerable to being cleared out of the body.
So the team set out to make MSCs hardier and, in turn, let them protect bone marrow transplants from an overzealous immune system. The team is made up of researchers from several Harvard schools like the Wyss Institute, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Harvard Stem Cell Initiative (HSCI).