Discovery offers insight into disease origins

Shannon McKinney-Freeman, PhD, David Finkelstein, PhD, and Miguel Ganuza, PhD

From left: Shannon McKinney-Freeman, PhD, David Finkelstein, PhD, and Miguel Ganuza, PhD

Like genealogists filling gaps in a family tree, St. Jude scientists have found that lifelong blood production relies on hundreds more “ancestor” cells than previously reported.

Blood-forming stem cells have the capacity to make any type of blood cell in the body. These cells form from precursor cells that emerge during prenatal development. The cells specialize to become the heart, kidneys, blood and other organs.

“All previous studies had reported that very few precursor cells are involved in establishing the blood system,” said Shannon McKinney-Freeman, PhD, of St. Jude Hematology. In the lab, she and her colleagues found that blood-forming stem cells arose from about 500 precursor cells rather than fewer than 10, as was previously assumed.

Blood-forming stem cells are used to restore blood production and immunity in patients who undergo bone marrow transplants. Understanding how the blood system develops provides insight into the origins of infant leukemia and other blood diseases.

The study was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

Read the news release.

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