Henry Winter
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The amazing power of blood stem cells

Henry Winter
Posted by
17 Feb 2012

Haemopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are the blood producing ‘mother’ cells which have the ability to produce every type of blood cell, maintaining blood production throughout our entire lifetime.

As well as producing the body’s red blood cells, white cells and platelets, they can even reproduce themselves, creating ‘daughter’ stem cells, each of which have the same self-renewing capacity.

The existence of HSCs is vital to the success of bone marrow transplants in treating various types of blood cancer. Transplants allow doctors to eradicate all cancerous and healthy cells in the bone marrow with high doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Donor HSCs are then transplanted into the patient, not only replenishing a healthy blood supply, but more importantly establishing a new immune system to fight any remaining cancer in the blood.    

A breakthrough study

New research by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research scientists at the University of Edinburgh has established the origin of these blood producing stem cells and demonstrated exactly how potent they can be. Described as a “landmark study in the history of experimental haematology”, Professor Medvinsky’s team have shown that HSCs originate in the dorsal aorta, a formative area in the aorta-gonad-mesonephros (AGM) region of the embryo.

Having pinpointed the source of the body’s blood system, the researchers discovered that these first blood producing stem cells are even more potent than previously expected. These original HSCs have the ability to reproduce themselves over 300 times, a self-renewing capacity ten times greater than stem cells taken from adults.  

Improving treatment

Along with other research across the UK into the nature of blood producing stem cells, new understanding of how they work is improving different forms of transplants in the treatment of blood cancers. This new research could someday lead to laboratory-generated stem cells for use in transplants. Access to matching stem cells when they are needed can be the difference between life and death for many patients.

Henry - Science Communications Team

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