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A German firm has developed patented technology based on which monocytes (mature white blood cells) from blood extracted from veins can be turned into cells with programmable properties comparable to those of stem cells and differentiated into different functional cells for diverse applications in diagnostics and therapy.
“We work with mononuclear cells, which can simply be extracted from blood,” said Prof Dr med Fred Fandrich, Director of the Clinic for General Surgery and Thoracic Surgery at the University Clinic of Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel, and founder of the company, Blasticon Biotechnologische Forschung GmbH.
“In the second step of our patented procedure we can â€˜reprogram’ these programmable cells into the desired target cells, for example liver or muscle cells or cells in pancreatic islets of Langerhans.”
The therapeutic possibilities lie in replacing defective or missing cells (regenerative medicine) or producing cells that regulate the immune system. This represents a significant advancement in the treatment of autoimmune diseases or for transplant medicine.
The “reprogrammed” cells can be used both as diagnostic agents or for therapeutic purposes. Inflammatory bowel diseases (Morbus Crohn, Colitis ulcerosa), diabetes, rheumatism, cardiac infarction, liver diseases and kidney and liver transplants, among others, are among the main therapeutic areas.
Blasticon’s therapeutic agents are for the most part in advanced stages of preclinical or clinical phases of development. In most cases, the medical fields of application described necessitate costly lifelong treatment. These new reprogrammed cells make it possible to attack illnesses at their origin and to prevent long duration of treatment. A further possible positive effect of the technologies is significant cost-reduction in the health system.
In mid-March the German Bundestag (Lower House) is due to vote on an amendment to the German Stem Cell Act. The opposing poles in the debate on embryonic stem cell research could not be further apart: its proponents are calling for the complete liberalisation of stem cell research, while its critics are in favour of a general ban on the use of human stem cells, which are produced from embryos.