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‘DIY’ finger prick yields ample stem cells for banking

Researchers have discovered what appears to be an easy way to collect large quantities of viable stem cells that can be banked for future regenerative medicine purposes – all from the simple prick of a finger. The study results were published online in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine.

“We show that a single drop of blood from a finger-prick sample is sufficient for performing cellular reprogramming, DNA sequencing and blood typing in parallel. Our strategy has the potential of facilitating the development of large-scale human iPSC banking worldwide,” said Jonathan Yuin-Han Loh, Ph.D., of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore. He is principal investigator on the study that also included scientists from other Singapore facilities as well as those in the United States and Great Britain.   

The medical world in general is excited about the potential of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for studying diseases and for therapeutic regenerative medicine. Stem cells harvested from bone marrow and cord blood are highly amenable to reprogramming.

“Some methods can result in negative side effects, and then you have bone-marrow harvesting, which is invasive, while cord blood is limited to individuals who have deposited their samples at birth,” Dr. Loh explained. “The large amount of blood needed to collect enough cells for reprogramming has also deterred many potential donors.”

But two recent studies describing the generation of human iPSCs from a relatively small volume of peripheral blood – about 2 milliliters — made the Loh team wonder if they could reduce that quantity even further. “We gradually reduced the starting volume of blood (collected using a needle) and confirmed that reprogramming can be achieved with as little as .25 milliliters,” Hong-kee Tan, lead author on the study and a research officer in the Loh lab reported.

This then made the team wonder whether a “DIY” (do-it-yourself) approach to blood collection might work too.

“To test this idea, we asked donors to prick their own fingers in a normal room environment and collect a single drop of blood sample into a tube,” Tan said. “The tube was placed on ice and delivered to the lab for reprogramming.”

The cells were treated with a buffer at 12-, 24- or 48-hour increments and observed under the microscope for viability and signs of contamination. After 12 days of expansion in medium, the cells appeared healthy and were actively dividing. The team next tested what happened when they reprogrammed the cells and succeeded in forcing them to become mesodermal, endodermal and neural cells. They were even able to induce some into giving rise to rhythmically beating cardiomyocytes.

“Interestingly, we did not observe any noticeable reduction in reprogramming efficiency between the freshly collected and the DIY finger-prick samples,” Dr. Loh said. “In summary, we derived healthy iPSCs from tiny volumes of venipuncture and a single drop finger-prick blood samples. We also report a high reprogramming yield of 100 to 600 colonies per milliliter of blood.”

“This highly efficient method for generating human iPSCs has the potential to accelerate both research on the cells and the banking of cells from large groups of donors,” said Anthony Atala, MD, editor of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.