McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster study sheds light on how stem cells develop into blood cells

Published: March 5, 2009
Mick Bhatia
Mick Bhatia, director of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute.
Audio: Interview with Mick Bhatia
John Biggs Show, Talk 820 radio

How messages sent within stem cells through a specific communication pathway can trigger the cells to specialize and become blood cells in humans, has been discovered by scientists of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute.

The finding, to be published in the March 6 issue of Cell Stem Cell, marks the first time scientists have demonstrated the importance of the pathway, known as the noncanonical Wnt, in inducing blood formation in humans or any other species. The pathway works by organizing the cells so that they can respond to signals for blood development.

Mick Bhatia, director of the McMaster Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, is the lead investigator of the study, which involved researchers from McMaster University, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Randall T. Moon Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Washington.

"By directing cell differentiation, this method provides the most efficient way to produce blood cells that we are aware of to date," said Bhatia, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster.

"The work also provides a new way to make blood from human stem cells that could be used for clinical applications to regenerate the immune and blood system in patients, including those with leukemia or undergoing cancer therapies that indirectly destroy the immune and blood system."

Stem cells are the building blocks of every organ and tissue in the body. Through the process of cellular differentiation, moving from a less specialized cell to a more specialize cell, stem cells have the ability to become any type of cell in the body including bone, muscle and blood cells.

In addition to the primary finding, the researchers also looked at second pathway and found that, unlike the first, it did not trigger the formation of blood cells. However, the second pathway did play a role in temporarily increasing the production of blood cells.

This project was funded by the Canadian Cancer Society with additional support from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Stem Cell Network.

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