July 22, 2015

Zebrafish reveal drugs that may improve bone marrow transplant

(July 22, 2015)  Compounds boost stem cell engraftment; could allow more matches for patients with cancer and blood diseases

Using large-scale zebrafish drug-screening models, Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have identified a potent group of chemicals that helps bone marrow transplants engraft or “take.” The findings, featured on the cover of the today’s issue of Nature, could lead to human trials in patients with cancer and blood disorders within a year or two, says senior investigator Leonard Zon, MD, a member of the HSCI Executive Committee and a Professor in Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology.

The compounds, known as epoxyeicosatrienoic acids, or EETs, boosted stem cell engraftment in both zebrafish and mice and could make human bone marrow transplant more efficient. Better engraftment could also allow umbilical cord blood to be used as an alternative to marrow as a source of blood stem cells, greatly increasing a patient’s chances of finding a matched donor and enhancing safety.

“Ninety percent of cord blood units can’t be used because they’re too small,” explains Zon, who directs the Stem Cell Research Program at Boston Children’s. “If you add these chemicals, you might be able to use more units. Being able to get engraftment allows you to pick a smaller cord blood sample that might be a better match.”

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