Large boost for Sanquin researchers to culture blood cells

The Dutch medical research council ZonMW recently introduced a new funding program: Pluripotent Stem cells for Inherited Diseases and Embryonic Research (PSIDER). Scientists from Sanquin Research (Eva-Maria Merz, Marieke von Lindern, Gerald de Haan and Emile van den Akker) and Jeantine Lunshof (member of Sanquin’s Ethical Advisory Council, EAR) participate in two national consortia whose applications received funding. For Sanquin Research this represents an important financial boost of a total of two million euros for five years of research.

Blood is essential. For transporting oxygen, for wound healing and for defense against pathogens. The short lifespan of blood cells requires continuous replenishment by blood-forming stem cells (HSCs). In a multitude of congenital diseases the production or function of blood cells is decreased, while the formation of blood cells also decreases with age. Often blood transfusion is the only therapeutic option, and bone marrow transplantation the only curative treatment.

At Sanquin Research, we conduct research with the aim of culturing blood cells. To do this we use pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These are the body’s own immortal cells that can form all specialized cell types in the human body, making them extremely useful for research into - as well as the production of - blood cells.

The aim of the funded projects is using patient iPSCs to study disease mechanisms in order to develop improved therapies. We focus on congenital anemias, and on culturing blood cells from blood-forming stem cells derived from iPSCs and early embryonic structures. We will use large vessels to culture blood cells under fully controlled conditions. In addition we will investigate how ethical, legal and societal aspects of these new technologies will impact donors, patients, clinicians, policy makers, pharmaceutical companies as well as society at large.

After the projects are finished, genetically corrected iPSCs could be applied to produce patient-specific cellular products suitable for transplantation or transfusion.