It’s that time of the month for Chinese scientists.
Menstrual blood needed… for science
They’re recruiting women who are willing to take part in some progressive stem cell research – using menstrual blood.
Scientists at Zhejiang University are carrying out a research project that looks into the use of stem cells retrieved from period blood in liver and lung disease treatment.
They have collected over 360 menstrual blood samples in the past two years, and they’re looking for 240 more donors, according to the Beijing News.
Professor Xiang Chunsheng, who leads the study, told Chinese press that laboratory mice suffering from cirrhosis of the liver were found to have gotten healthier after receiving injections of endometrial stem cells collected from menstrual blood.
But experts say it is too early to draw any conclusions about human medicine.
“This research was done on mice and it has a long way to go before it could be translated for use in humans,” Professor Kenneth Lee, a biomedical scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who was not involved in the study, told Inkstone.
Ethical stem cells
Endometrial stem cells come from the uterine lining, and can be found in menstrual blood.
They are a kind of cell known as “adult stem cells” – found throughout the body and able to repair damaged tissue.
Adult stem cells can also be derived from bone marrow, fat, gum, skin, placenta, umbilical cords and other areas of the adult body, explained Professor Lee.
They are currently used to fight leukemia and similar blood and bone cancers, in the form of bone marrow transplants.
And unlike embryonic stem cells, which are taken from fertilized embryos, adult stem cells are far less ethically controversial.
Another advantage of using stem cells from menstrual blood is that no invasive procedure is needed for collection.
“China is slightly behind the US, but on the same par as Europe, in stem cell research,” Professor Lee says.
According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ National Science Review, in 2016 China launched the “Stem Cell and Translational Research” program, with a five-year budget of $430 million.
The US remains the world's leader in stem cell research. The National Institutes of Health spent $1.6 billion to fund stem cell research in 2017, although that’s expected to drop to $1.2 billion in 2018.
The US spent an estimated $510 billion on overall research and development in 2016, while China spent $279 billion in 2017.
But China’s investment in R&D is growing fast, rising nearly 71% since 2012.
And as the researchers may point out... every little drop helps.