Results of laboratory experiments by Johns Hopkins scientists suggest it may be possible to "educate" the immune system to recognize rather than destroy human embryonic stem cells. Doing so could reduce the risk of rejection if the primitive cells are someday transplanted into people with conditions like Parkinson’s disease, diabetes or spinal cord injuries, the researchers say.
In their experiments, described in the July 10 issue of The Lancet, the Hopkins team successfully coaxed human embryonic stem cells to become the special "flag-waving" cells that tell the immune system what is "friend" and what is "foe." In additional experiments in the lab, the researchers found that these so-called antigen presenting cells can control the responses of other immune cells, called T cells, whose job is either to attack or to co-exist with "foreign" cells.
"This is the first evidence that human embryonic stem cells can generate antigen presenting cells that could be used to educate a patient’s immune system," says Linzhao Cheng, Ph.D., assistant professor in Johns Hopkins’ Institute for Cell Engineering. "It’s a small but important step toward future clinical use of the stem cells, but many challenges remain."
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