Could “the curse” be a blessing in disguise?

18 November 2007
Posted by Chris Smith.

In a slightly icky turn of events, collaborating researchers in the US have discovered that menstrual blood could be a potential source of a new type of stem cells, which can be turned into several different sorts of cells.

Every month, new blood vessels grow in the womb, to prepare for any potential fertilised eggs that might drop in.  If a woman doesn't become pregnant, then this lining is shed.

Writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers showed that this blood contained stem cells that can be grown in the lab, which can multiply up to 70 times - dividing once every 20 hours. This is much faster than other types of stem cells from the umbilical cord or bone marrow. 

These cells, termed Endometrial Regenerative Cells, can be coaxed into at least 9 different fates, including heart, liver and lung.

Just 5 ml of menstrual blood from a healthy woman could provide beating heart cells after two weeks growing in the lab.  The researchers think these cells could be grown on a large scale, which would provide an alternative to using bone marrow and umbilical cord blood, which itself poses threats of rejection by the immune system.

And although the technology is still at a very early stage, a company in the States is already offering to freeze and store menstrual blood, in case it becomes a viable treatment in the future. However, it's not clear if these cells could be manipulated in order to treat men, or if they are just for girls.

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