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Penn researchers unlock molecular origin of blood stem cells
Date:1/9/2009

PHILADELPHIA A research team led by Nancy Speck, PhD, Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, has identified the location and developmental timeline in which a majority of bone marrow stem cells form in the mouse embryo. The findings, appearing online this week in the journal Nature, highlight critical steps in the origin of hematopoietic (or blood) stem cells (HSCs), says senior author Speck, who is also an Investigator with the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at Penn.

Because HSCs, found in the bone marrow of adult mammals, generate all of the blood cell types of the body, unlocking the secrets of their origin may help researchers to better manipulate embryonic stem cells to generate new blood cells for therapy.

"The ultimate goal for stem cell therapies is to take embryonic stem cells and push them down a particular lineage to replace diseased or dead cells in human adults or children," says Speck. For instance, in theory embryonic stem cells could be tweaked in a lab to provide a patient with bone marrow failure a fresh supply of compatible HSCs.

To date, however, Speck says scientists have been unable to coax embryonic stem cells to become HSCs without significant genetic manipulations that are too risky for clinical therapies. First things first, Speck says: "You have to understand what's happening in the embryo."

Previous studies hinted that HSCs originated from a small population of cells lining the blood vessels, called endothelial cells. But, it was unclear how endothelial cells transitioned to blood stem cells during early development.

Before joining Penn in September 2008, Speck, then at Dartmouth Medical School, led a team that confirmed that HSCs in bone marrow were originating from the endothelial cells and determined whether the activity of a protein called Runx1, which is known to be critical in the formation of blood cell
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Contact: Karen Kreeger
karen.kreeger@uphs.upenn.edu
215-349-5658
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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