A research team at the Umeå Center for Molecular Medicine (UCMM) in Sweden, led by Professor Leif Carlsson, has managed to establish and isolate the tissue-specific stem cell that produces blood cells (blood stem cell) by using genetically modified embryonic stem cells.
A deeper understanding of the regulation of blood stem cells is important if we are to be able to further develop treatments for diseases that require bone marrow transplants, such as leukemia, immune deficiencies, and anemia disorders. Blood stem cells are unique in that they can both continually generate all types of blood cells and also produce new stem cells, so-called self-regeneration. These two properties are the basic reason why we have a functioning blood system throughout our lives and why bone marrow transplants are a functional treatment method.
An understanding of how tissue-specific stem cells are produced and regulated is absolutely essential for us to be able to develop forms of treatment in so-called regenerative medicine, that is, where damaged tissue needs to be replaced by new tissue. On source of transplantable cells for this purpose is embryonic stem cells, since they have a unique capacity to generate different types of tissues. But one of the major problems with embryonic stem cells is to be able to establish and isolate tissue-specific stem cells, such as blood stem cells, from these cells in a reproducible manner.
Even though the process of self-regeneration is well known, the molecular mechanisms that underlie it are largely unknown. The fact that it is now possible to establish and isolate blood stem cells from embryonic stem cells in a reproducible way will yield key insights into the molecular mechanisms that regulate the function of blood stem cells and will thereby lead to enhanced methods of treatment for patients who need bone marrow transplants, such as leukemia patients.
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