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Stem Cell Tracking Made Possible With Common Anemia Drug At Stanford

Researchers at Stanford University have made a discovery that could mean faster, more effective stem cell therapy in the future.

In a study published in the journal Radiology last week, researchers explained how a common chemical compound could significantly reduce the time needed for a successful transplant.

One of the major challenges doctors face during stem cell therapy is tracking successful attachment of the new cells. Using current methods, doctors must wait months to see if the cells have even taken hold. But Stanford researchers found that by utilizing ferumoxytol -- a common, FDA-approved imaging agent that is already used to treat anemia -- they can cut that time from a number of months down to a number of hours.

"With our new approach, we look to label the cells with an iron supplement and we can see the transplanted cells directly," said Dr. Heike Daldrup-Link, an author of the study, to the San Francisco Business Times. "It allows us to determine if the cells remain at the defect site or not."

Researchers explained the process in a release about the breakthrough:

Stem cells have been used with some success in cartilage-repair procedures. "But things can go wrong," [said Daldrup-Link.] "The newly transferred cells might fail to engraft, or die. They might migrate away. They could develop into tissues other than cartilage, most commonly fibrous scar tissue."

Relatively few transplanted cells go the distance. […] With the new technique, magnetic resonance imaging can visualize stem cells for several weeks after they have been implanted, giving orthopaedic surgeons a better sense of whether the transplantation was successful.

Researchers successfully tested the procedure on rodents and hope to start clinical trials soon. While the procedure was specifically targeted for knee injuries, Daldrup-Link told the Business Times that it could potentially work in other areas of the body, as well.

Amazing Transplants