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.
By coating a new microgel on the MSCs, Harvard scientists have found that the immune system has a harder time clearing out the MSCs—allowing the treatment to take place undisturbed. While more research must be done, this could dramatically improve the success rate of bone marrow transplants.