Recently I was teaching a workshop in Amsterdam on the Menopause and one of my students mentioned a study on how menstrual blood is now being researched by scientists for its potential uses in healing. I had not heard of this research before, but found out that as long ago as 2008 scientists in Japan discovered that cells taken from menstrual blood can be cultivated in the lab and used like stem cells to repair damaged heart tissue. A recent study in Brazil in 2014, suggests that the cells derived from menstrual blood can create a feeder layer system for creating human embryonic stem cells.
Stem cells are powerful cells as they can be used to repair and grow new tissue. Using stem cells in medicine is a relatively new field and much more work needs to be done for it to have widespread practical applications. Pluripotent stem cells (ie having the potential to become any cell in the body) are found in the embryo until three weeks in the “inner body” when they start differentiating into the three germ layers of the endo, ecto and mesoderm which create different structures (Previous Blog:First week after conception) Human embryonic pluripotent stem cells were first cultivated in labs in 1998 from embryos created by in vitro fertilisation. Adult stem cells are relatively rare in the body and have a more limited capacity for renewal and differentiation. However in 2006 researchers worked out how to reprogramme adult stem cells back into a state of pluripotency( Induced pluripotent stem cells iPSC) although these cells are thought to offer less possibilities than embryonic stem cells and also carry with them a larger potential for rejection. However both of these methods of producing pluripotent stem cells are fairly difficult and using menstrual blood potentially offers a much easier way.
Ancient cultures valued the power of menstrual blood. It was often used in healing ceremonies. In Chinese medicine, menstrual blood was called the Heavenly Gui and linked to a woman’s expression of her Essence (Jing).The channel which most directly regulates menstrual blood is the Penetrating Vessel (Chong Mai)( see my blog for more information on this) Sadly many modern religions have excluded menstruating women from their places of worship and labelled them as dirty and unclean. Many women themselves today view their blood as dirty, as something to be hidden from view, with tampons. Some even are happy to take medicines to suppress blood loss entirely. It’s interesting that modern science is now re-discovering the healing power of menstrual blood.
Miyoshi and his colleagues in Japan found that menstrual blood contains precursor cells that can be used to develop cardiac stem-cell therapeutic material: mesenchymal cells (MMCs). Nine women donated their menstrual blood and the precursor cells were cultivated and then put with cells from the hearts of rats. About 20 per cent of MMCs began beating spontaneously and eventually formed sheets of heart muscle tissue. This success rate is about 100 times higher than the 0.2 to 0.3 per cent of stem cells derived from human bone marrow.
The researchers concluded that:
“MMCs appear to be a potential novel, easily accessible source of material for cardiac stem cell-based therapy.”
Miyoshi thinks that one day women could use their menstrual blood for their own treatment. This would overcome the major problem of immune system rejection.
Another useful application could be to use menstrual blood to stockpile cells with a range of matching human leukocyte antigens (HLA’s), important immune system agents.
Miyoshi also suggested, because the MMCs have the potential to develop into muscle cells, that perhaps another application could be to treat muscular dystrophy, a range of genetic diseases that destroy muscle tissue.
Much more development needs to happen before menstrual blood can be used clinically but these are interesting developments.
As scientists are re-discovering the power of menstrual blood, more women themselves are beginning to celebrate its power. Many women use cups to collect their blood and use it to feed plants. There are movements like the Red Tent where women can gather at the full or new moon to honour their cycles. These have been inspired by Anita Diamont’s novel “The Red Tent” and by the work of authors such as Alexandra Pope and Miranda Grey. Other organisations also exist to celebrate the power of the womb and menstrual blood. Artists such as Jen Lewis have started using menstrual blood to create works of art.
Let’s celebrate the wisdom of our blood and the Chong Mai (Penetrating Vessel) .
Japan study: “Novel Cardiac Precursor-Like Cells from Human Menstrual Blood-Derived Mesenchymal Cells.”
Naoko Hida, Nobuhiro Nishiyama, Shunichiro Miyoshi, Shinichiro Kira, Kaoru Segawa, Taro Uyama, Taisuke Mori, Kenji Miyado, Yukinori Ikegami, ChangHao Cui, Tohru Kiyono, Satoru Kyo, Tatsuya Shimizu, Teruo Okano, Michiie Sakamoto, Satoshi Ogawa, Akihiro Umezawa.
Stem Cells Express, first published online April 17, 2008.
Brazilian study http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-05/ctco-brf052814.php
Silva dos Santos, D.; Coelho de Oliveira, V. C.; Asensi, K. D.; Vairo, L.; Carvalho, A. B.; Campos de Carvalho, A. C.; Goldenberg, R. C. dos S. Human Menstrual Blood Derived Mesenchymal Cells As New Human Feederlayer System For Human Embryonic Stem Cells. Cell Med. Appeared online March 3, 2014.